Beyond the Shadows
This is book two in a series, but you definitely don’t have to read book one to enjoy the story. Good thing since I hadn’t known it was a series book going in!
Yara is a member of the Elite, the ruling class of Azra, a matriarchal society reigned over by the Grand Sister. As next in line for the throne, she can be challenged, but while her rival Palar would love to do just that, Yara is fairly secure in her position. She has all the popular support needed for a peaceful ascension to the ruling seat. In fact, she would probably be ruling right now if it wasn’t for the fact that she is stuck on a rat hole of a planet with no ride. Or rather, an appalling choice of ride. Cyrus, an Earthlen trader, might have an OK reputation but he is anything but Yara’s idea of a nice lift home. Or, as she puts it, “I am not going to pay some rankcock-licking Earthlen scum for passage on a junked-together freight hauler that doesn’t even look capable of flying through the atmosphere shield.” In the end, she is given no options and negotiates with the devil himself to get her to Azra before a civil war breaks out.
Cyrus may have grown up on Earth but he is no Earthlen. His real name is Cyn and he is also from Azra – although from the dark, torturous portion known as the Shadows. He is the heart of the rebellion, a man determined to bring down the rulers who have ignored the suffering of the lower classes on their planet. Calling in all his chips, he arranges to be the only available way to Azra for Yara. He plans to see that her rival has plenty of time to rethink the challenge issue. If Yara is gone long enough, he knows that is what will happen. And that challenge and civil unrest will provide the best possible moment for the rebels to strike.
As he travels with her across the galaxy, though, he realizes that she poses a much greater danger than he had ever imagined. She would make a fair and just ruler and be an asset to his people, which makes it difficult to cut her off from the throne. And she is slowly capturing his heart and making him into her willing slave. Has he gone from fighting the system to wanting to be a lover within it?
Cyn/Cyrus is actually a pretty cool character, although precisely what you would expect in many ways. A strong fighter and an even stronger voice for justice, he is doing what he must to alleviate the suffering of his people. Naturally he has a heart of gold along with the worlds weariness required of an interplanetary smuggler. He might not be a unique or original character, but he is fully fleshed out and an asset to the plot. I especially liked the way he had made his ship a home, not just something he traveled around in. And his sidekick Bug was pretty awesome too.
I wish I could say the same for Yara, but I frankly didn’t get her character. She was supposed to be a warrior but she couldn’t hold her own in battle. In one sequence, when they are fighting for their lives, she loses a tactical advantage to save her cat. I can’t imagine any warrior, even the female ones, thinking like that in the heat of battle. She was also supposed to be a queen but she was more a robot, trained to obey orders as opposed to thinking for herself. She showed no real interest in the people she was supposed to rule or the history of the planet she was supposed to be in charge of. It wasn’t till the very end of the book that she suddenly gained any power, but by then it was clear that that was an authorial decision as opposed to the character knowing what she was doing.
I’ll be honest, she embodied one of my biggest pet peeves. I love strong heroines but I don’t find them to be strong if all they do is talk tough while the hero constantly has to rescue them. It doesn’t help if you combine incompetence with wide eyed naïveté. Yara, to me, was a strong argument for a patriarchal government. It was an argument I really didn’t want to hear.
The relationship is primarily built on verbal sparring matches, mutual lust and the heroism of Cyn. It would be hard to reject a man who came after you time and again no matter how big a mistake you made, and Cyn was just such a man. He was also respectful of the heroine as a person. There is an especially touching moment when some embarrassment has to take place in front of a group Yara has been captured by. I thought his sensitivity in that moment said a lot for him.
Speaking of that, I will reveal a tiny spoiler here and say that the universe Granger has created has slavery in it. It can make for some harsh reading if you are sensitive to the degradation of men, women or children. The good news is that it is used with subtlety and not just put in for titillation but to forward the plot and for some character growth. But I have been on the AAR list long enough to know this does bother some and wanted to warn possible readers of its presence.
The world building is good if not brilliant. The space adventure portion, loaded with action, was really well done. The author did not overburden herself by making the plot more complicated than it needed to be. There was some super-villainy going on at the end, but it worked and was mercifully short. And as mentioned before, the hero was a plus. This is a solid science fiction romance for those of us who like those sort of things. I plan to read book one, Beyond the Rain, sometime soon. I’m hoping it features some of the strengths of this book – and has a more winning heroine.