A Conspiracy of Whispers
I love sci-fi romance, but I find it the hardest romance subgenre to navigate. Marketing is more disorienting, quality is highly variable, and the best reads seem fewer and farther between. While searching my library’s Libby app under ‘romance’ and ‘science fiction’, I picked A Conspiracy of Whispers on a whim, and what a fortunate whim it was.
Olivia Shaw is a Whisper, an assassin working for the city-state ruled by the Syndicate. She is also secretly a caricae, a rare woman capable of bearing children; if discovered, she would be subject to forced imprisonment and forced childbearing. Her latest mission takes her over the border into the wild forests of the Empire, where her assassination target is an Imperial soldier who just happens to be in the middle of kidnapping the Empress’s brother, Galen. Charged with leaving no witnesses, something stops Olivia from pulling the trigger on Galen, and she decides to take him hostage instead. But a road trip with Galen is no safe prospect. There’s the wilderness, the coup attempt, Galen’s enemy status… and the fact that Galen is an elite altus, whose body can detect her caricae status.
Altuses and caricaes (and yes, I had some twitches over this mutilated Latin) are capable of forming a bond, but friendship and compatibility are as important as a mystical fate. Galen is a genuinely nice man, not a beefy warrior archetype. He even has – gasp – a sense of humor! Olivia may be prickly and paranoid, but in a world where the wrong person simply smelling her could lead to a life as a sex slave, I found that to be completely justified. Watching Galen and Olivia on the road trip is delightful, as mistrust grows into mutual reliance. Their follow-up adventure, which requires Olivia to take the lead (Gavin listens!!!!!), is also an exercise in couple growth.
This book does so much more with the biology-is-destiny storyline popular in a lot of sci-fi. Olivia is a non-conforming caricae, aggressive and fierce. The author doesn’t make altus Galen a standard ‘dominant, possessive male;. Best of all, Conspiracy acknowledges that there are people whose sexuality and gender identity won’t align to genetic absolutes, introducing a transgender caricae and a female altus who is asexual. The book also has lesbian and gay secondary characters, including Galen’s sister (the heroine of the f/f sequel).
My biggest complaint is the scope of the coup and war that serve as the backdrop to this story. The opening small-scale survival story in the wilderness works so well because the author keeps a tight focus on the two leads and their cooperation. Later in the book however, the military conflict spirals into an enormous war, the characters foolishly trust problematic characters, and Olivia and Galen spend too much time separated. I found the action sequences confusing, and I always get frustrated when protagonists are surrounded by loyal soldier squads who die to ensure the leads can make it back for their HEAs. Also, Olivia agrees to a stupid scheme to force a Big Mis and a separation.
Overall, this is a very good romance, and I was quite close to giving it an A-. Only the realization that I’d end up skipping a huge portion of the page count on a re-read due to the war made me bring it down to a B+. If you’re a sci-fi fan like me, you’ll be very happy with this.
Buy it at: Amazon
Visit our Amazon Storefront
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
|Review Date:||January 22, 2021|
|Book Type:||Science Fiction Romance|
|Review Tags:||assassin | enemies to lovers | fated mates | road romance|
Slapping this on my tbr pile!
Since we’re sharing SF romance recs here, I remember enjoying Kinsman’s Oath by Susan Krinard. I don’t remember a lot about it except that the hero was a human raised by giant feline-like aliens, which was kind of interesting.
Also, Happy Snak by Nicole Kimberling, published by the sadly defunct Samhain Press, was great. The heroine runs a fast food joint on a space station and accidentally becomes the guardian to a recently deceased alien’s spirit. No, she’s not having a romance with the spirit, in case you’re wondering, but it’s a surprisingly good subplot.
P.S. Oh! And Kimberling is now the editor of her own queer speculative romance publishing company, Blind Eye Books. Just FYI for anyone who wants to peruse a small press’s catalog.
One of my favorite small time presses: Blind Eye Books!
Read it practically in one go, and enjoyed it a lot.
I agree with your review.
What i really liked was the emotional journey of the heroine and how she slowly gained trust.
What irritated was – for me- not so much the politics and battles, but that they were badly explained. I did not understand the rebellion, how it became so big, why the interference from the neighboring country… so the second half of the Book felt long and did not quite satisfy. Well, maybe this gets explained in the sequel about another couple.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Another SF romance fan checks in! I just really like scifi, with or without romance, but romance is certainly a big plus. I, too, have found the subgenre hard to navigate. As someone new to both romance and SF romance, I’ve been terribly lost as to how to go about choosing what to read. Going it more or less blind (especially in the beginning when I didn’t even have an e-reader), I’ve ended up with some pretty strange books in the process. Some really good ones too, though.
Anyway, this book sounds great – I’m really looking forward to reading it! Thank you so much for the excellent review!
I hope you enjoy it!
Thanks for reviewing this one, Caroline! This is yet another entry on my TBR list that keeps expanding at the rate of the universe.
Like you, I enjoy SF romance but it is hard to pull off and definitely a much smaller niche compared to historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, etc. Even smaller than paranormal, I’d wager. This is all just based on my observations, though. I don’t have actual figures except that Carina Press’s “science fiction romance” category has only 88 entries total dating back to 2011. Actually, SF romance about 8% of their catalog. Not bad.
After reading your review, I’ll definitely be bumping it up higher on my TBR list.
When it is well done, sci fi romance can shine, but as you say – it is rarely done so, that the romance is really the main part, often, the big stories of the world intrude.
I really like Val Roberts, who has written 6 SciFi romances for now, Valmont Contingency, Nobinata Gambit, Ocasek Opportunity is one series, the other is 3 books collected in Offworld Relations. She manages to create worlds that are different, yet her books are short, focused on the main characters and their romance while still providing an interesting story that the romance is embedded in.
Also, Michelle Diener’s Dark series (starting with Dark Horse) is good, though to me, there is a little too little romance, but still very good. Her other sci fi books unfortunately take the love story for granted, people are already or very quickly fascinated with each other, so there is no love story developing much, and the books mostly figure a lot of running around and evading captors, which is ok if you like that, I just find it boring and repetitive (I also rarely like road romances).
I will try this book and hope that I like it as much as you.
I have not read Val Roberts! Thanks for the recommendation!
Let me know what you think!
I strongly second the recommendations of both Val Roberts and Michelle Diener.
I would add Linnea Sinclair and Jael Wye, though I don’t know if either is still writing.
Maybe Susan Grant, though I’m years behind in reading her releases.
I love Sinclair. I’ve read Grant but it was mixed, and same with Diener. Wye is new to me, though, so thanks for the name!
Caroline, Which Grant did you like? I think I tried her but was not convinced, maybe the wrong book? I do not remember.
I reviewed her book The Champion of Baresh here and gave it a B-. I tried a couple of others from my library but nothing grabbed me.
Thank you, Caroline!
Love Linnea Sinclair and some of Susan Grant’s,as well as Meljean Brooks’ (steampunk) Iron Dukes series. For Susan Grant, I liked the Star series, although the first book, Star King is my least favorite. I also remember enjoying her standalone, Contact. I read all these years ago, although I did just buy the bundle of the Star series on Kindle for .99, so I thought I’d give them another go soon.
Has anyone read Veronica Scott? I read her Wreck of the Nebula Dream years ago and enjoyed it, but for some reason didn’t read anything else by her.
I remember enjoying Deidre Knight’s Midnight Warriors series,which is sort of sci-fi rom, but that was years ago.
I’ve enjoyed JAK’s Lost Colonies series and read them more than once. I think they were originally written under the pen name Amanda Glass.
Catherine Asaro writes great books. I love her Major Baahjan series which starts with Undercity. sci fi with romantic elements. Great story. So is Primary Inversion by the same author.
Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy is excellent. Another sci-fi with romantic elements.
I’ve read and enjoyed several books by Ellen Fisher who wrote a few sci-fi/futuristic books. (Never Love a Stranger) My favorite is a novella titled Farthest Space:The Wrath of Jan. In Fisher’s contemporary books Farthest Space is mentioned as a TV show, and here she gives us a hilarious “episode” with references to Star Trek, Stargate SG-1, Hitchhikers Guide and more.
I entirely forgot about Sara Creasy! I liked both Song of Scarabaeus and Children of Scarabaeus a lot.
Meljean Brook’s Iron Sea steampunk series is SO good. Totally agree with that.
I’ve tried to read Susan Grant twice, two different books, so perhaps me and her works aren’t just meant to be. Or maybe third time’s the charm? I haven’t tried Contact and the premise sounds promising.
Veronica Scott is a familiar name to me, but I have not read anything by her. The rest of the authors you mentioned are all new to me, and I’m excited to check them out. Thank you for the recommendations!
Just keep in mind I read allof theseyears ago, and don’t know how they hold up. I’m going to look at the authors you recommend below, too!
I love Linnea Sinclair as well. I hope she is still writing but she has not come out with any new books recently.
Michelle Diener’s Dark series is wonderful! I read the first book of her Verdant String series but it was a bit of a disappointment and didn’t make me wish to continue the series. I haven’t read her other books.
I’ll make sure to check out Val Roberts – it’s so cool to get recs in this subgenre, many thanks!
Besides the already mentioned Linnea Sinclair, whose books I’ve liked a lot, two series I’ve really enjoyed are Central Galactic Concordance series by Carol Van Natta, and Home In the Stars series by Jolie Mason.
Do not continue with Verdant strings – they are all the same, just with different persons. Unfortunately. Dark series was good. I tried her newest, a fantasy called Turncoat King, and it was again, the same. Great idea for a world, but then only running around and fighting, the romance does not develop, it just happens in a novella prequel and is then taken for granted.
Thanks for the reds!
I meant recs, recommendations. Autocorrect :-(
That’s disappointing to hear. I liked the Dark series a lot, and was excited to start the Verdant Strings series, but the first book just left me feeling kind of deflated. It’s always such a bummer to have high hopes and great enthusiasm for a book only to dislike it or feel meh about it.
Thank you for your advice. I’d been wondering if the series got better in the subsequent books, but since it sounds like it only offers more of the same as the first book which didn’t really work all that well for me in the first place, I’m going to give the rest of the series a pass.
On Goodreads and Amazon the Diener series I think you are talking about is called “Class 5.” It starts with Dark Horse, right? Good news for me is they are all on Kindle Unlimited.
Yes, I just checked, Class 5 is the actual name of the series! All the books’ names in the series start with the word ‘dark’, I guess that’s how things got mixed up. Dark Horse is the first book, followed by Dark Deeds, Dark Minds, and Dark Matters. Sorry about the confusion. I hope you like the book(s). :)