The space slave may not be quite as ubiquitous in SF as the duke in historicals, but she (and it’s nearly always a she) is certainly at “trope” levels. Breeder provides an acceptable execution of this plotline, but delivers neither the depth of worldbuilding I look for in an alternate reality story or the depth of characterization I look for in a romance. Ultimately, it’s just fine.
Dak is Alpha, a military governor of a province of the planet Parseon, where ruling Protocol dictates that women are relegated to the roles of Breeder if fertile and servant or slave if not. Attracted by her virginity (as proved by a physical lock on her vagina, yup), Dak purchases Omra to be his breeding slave. However, Omra’s intellect and character make Dak reconsider the secondary status for women – which makes him a target for other Alphas and his beta former partner, Corren.
We first meet Dak when he’s shopping for a breeder, and his treatment of Omra is awful. It only appears short of ghastly because it is superior to the treatment she gets from the breeder center manager. The author does not portray this as erotic, which I appreciated; rather, Dak has been told not only that he can legally flog a woman and stick fingers in her, but that he must. While I’m glad that the author makes the book about his journey to realizing that this behavior is unacceptable and Protocol is wrong, it happens much too fast. Dak goes from sexually assaulting a woman to defying the laws of his planet in just a couple of chapters. Another flaw in Dak’s characterization is his Alpha title. He’s unrealistically young to rule a fifth or so of a planet, and not only do we almost never see him doing any work, we also don’t see any support staff or governing infrastructure.
Omra is also from Parseon and consequently believes in Protocol, which contrasts her with the typical ‘slave’ captured outsider. I liked that she has to make a mental journey from “I’m an object” to “I’m a person,” but I wished for more beyond that. She also has one inexplicably TSTL moment in the last third of the book.
The most interesting aspect of Parseon protocol is the idea of stigmatizing heterosexual sex and heterosexual attraction. Dak, we learn, has infrequent sex with his male beta (and kicks him out after Omra arrives) but ravenously desires Omra. His attraction and (later) love, make Dak deviant and vulnerable in the eyes of Parseon. It’s an inversion of the gay-men-are-effeminate stereotype, and it works, but I wish it had been more consistently executed. For instance, it’s considered polite for Alphas to allow visiting Alphas the “use” of their female slaves, and the Alphas who visit Dak openly lust after Omra. I was unclear if lusting after women was all right as long as the men didn’t personalize it, or if men weren’t supposed to lust after women at all. Plus, Dak’s beta Corren is strictly homosexual, which means that his villainy puts him in “gay = villain” stereotype territory.
Breeder isn’t offensive or terrible, which is, let’s face it, something to watch out for in space slave stories. It’s also well-written at the sentence level, which can be an issue in self-pubs (one particularly amusing example: before becoming more enlightened, Dak considers the clitoris “a mishap of nature with no function or purpose.”) If you like this story type, you could pass some time reading this, but it probably won’t make your keeper shelf.