Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novella

 

After losing his eye in the course of his duties, sun-born mage Zal has spent the last several years patrolling a sparsely populated region in the north. Usually, the job doesn’t require much of him or his sun magic. On this most recent trip, however, Zal must repair a bridge that has been obliterated by a giant boulder and discovers something highly unusual in the nearby village of Corvel-on-Byrne. The giant boulder was actually the top of Star Mountain and, in the aftermath of the disaster, a stranger appeared the likes of which no one in the village had ever seen before. To hear the villagers talk, this stranger was a dangerous rogue mage out to literally enchant the pants of any willing villager. Concerned about illegal use of magic and the villagers’ sensational story, Zal goes to the jail to investigate. There, he encounters a person who Zal can only imagine is the last living moon-born left on the planet.

Torian may be being held against their will in a sunless cell, but it is still better than their former role as a lab assistant in Star Mountain. Despite the depressing surroundings, Torian is keen to learn more about the so-called sun-born. Though the villagers are less than hospitable, the sun mage Zal seems far more personable. Torian hopes they can convince Zal that Torian themself needs help. But that will be a tough task, as Torian learns that their science-based worldview is in opposition with Zal’s magic-based one. Especially when it becomes clear that the concepts of consent and choice, so crucial to the sun-born, were far different for Torian on Star Mountain. That leaves Torian in a precarious situation. When the villagers first found Torian, they inadvertently activated Torian’s so-called comfort protocols. This left the villagers convinced they were bewitched with illegal magic and all but guaranteed Torian a one-way ticket to judgment in the capital.

Zal takes responsibility for Torian and the two set out on the arduous trip to the capital. The longer they spend together, the more both of them realize there is more to the other than meets the eye. Nevertheless, Zal is duty-bound to make Torian face the consequences of their apparent choices. Time will tell if Torian can explain to Zal the true nature of exactly who and what they are.

Partnership is a novella in the Sun, Moon, and Stars series by author E.J. Russell. It takes place on a physical planet that has all the trappings of a fantasy world, and that is delightfully juxtaposed against Torian’s science-based world. The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Zal and Torian’s perspectives. The chapters are short and they fly by.

The whole reason I was drawn to this book was the amalgamation of fantasy and science-fiction genres, both in terms of setting and main character presentation. On top of that, there’s also the queer representation of an asexual, cis-gendered man and a nonbinary cyborg. Despite how unlikely these bedfellows sound, Russell interweaves these elements beautifully within the plot and our two main characters. The alternating perspectives allowed me as a reader to clearly appreciate the fantasy aspects that Zal and his world understand to be impermeable truth. At the same time, Torian layers their delightfully science-based lore over the top of this. I loved that these two divergent thought systems actually interlock with each other perfectly.

In fact, the discussions between Zal and Torian are the primary vehicle that drives their relationship. Torian worked as a kind of sex worker in their job in Star Mountain. Sex work is not in any way stigmatized in either Torian or Zal’s cultures, but that experience and their own programming made Torian view all social interactions through the lens of physical desire. This is what caused the uproar with the villagers, because they assumed Torian’s innate intimacy skills were actually a form of magic. It also caused some strife between Torian and Zal, because Zal is not only asexual, but celibacy is demanded in his role as a sun mage. With enough discussion, Zal and Torian come to understand there can be a relationship between them that is not sexual in nature. I had a lot of fun watching them come to understand each other’s cultural perspectives on that idea.

As far as the overall story development goes, Partnership ends with our two main characters coming together on solid footing as, well, partners. Over the course of the book, both of them have deep cultural upheavals that makes them view their native cultures with more skepticism than at the beginning of the story. So, by the end of the book, they have resolved the situational differences that arose. However, the larger question of how someone like Torian can fit into Zal’s culture is left to be resolved in the next book.

If you enjoy stories with strong main characters who are multifaceted and interesting in their own rights, I think you will enjoy this book immensely. If, like me, you are intrigued by the amalgamation of fantasy and science fiction in a very stark, yet interwoven story, I think you will find this book to be a delightful treat.