Described as Anastasia meets The Bodyguard, Queen of Dust by H.E. Dare is a sexy science fiction romance that kept me hooked from the very first page to the last. A rather eye-opening voyeuristic scene sets the stage for Mara Leanor, a Balti Temptress, her partner, CEO Liam Pent, and Calvy D’Aldiern, an enemy soldier of the Dern Empire.
Mara was rescued as a child just before a poisonous bomb went off in the atmosphere of Balti, a beautiful, nature driven planet that is rendered uninhabitable for ten years following the bomb, which killed all the human inhabitants left there. With no memory of her life or how she escaped – other than what she was told at the time – Mara is raised as a Balti Temptress, meaning that she is taught how to enjoy pleasure at any age – from childlike pleasures like candy and play when younger, then from the sexual arts as an adult. It’s believed she is the last (and only) Balti Temptress still alive.
Now Balti is inhabited once more, Mara enlists the aid of Liam Pent, CEO of the Pent Corporation which has factories on the planet, in getting back there, his spaceship and technological capabilities enabling her to travel there in months versus the years it would take using traditional means. Their relationship is bound by sex and their mutual disdain for the Dern Empire. Mara hates the Dern because they are responsible for the bomb that destroyed Balti; Liam is tied to them through business ventures which include military contracts, but he looks scornfully down on the Dern’s Virtues – purity through patience, clarity through compliance, and deliverance through dedication.
Calvy D’Aldiern was born a Prince of the Dern Empire, but as a surprise birth, number eleven in a strictly regulated system of producing ten heirs per royal couple, he doesn’t have a role to play in the family dynamics. Instead, he’s a commoner under the law and he chose to become a soldier. When a troop under Cal’s supervision was caught with counterfeit weapons, Cal took the blame and went to prison, was demoted from Captain to Private, and upon his release, discovered that his military contract had been purchased by Liam Pent. It’s a power move for Liam, ‘owning’ a piece of the Dern royal family. Taking Cal on board his ship while on route to Balti, his intention is to have Cal serve as a bodyguard for Mara while she’s there, as he has other business to attend to and won’t be staying there with her. He has another job for Cal, too – to be her sexual release if she needs him, knowing of her appetite for sex and planning to indulge himself with other women himself while they are separated.
Reluctantly accepting Cal’s position as her bodyguard, Mara is frustrated that being back on Balti hasn’t brought any memories immediately back. Nothing looks familiar, the workers at the factories are indentured servants, and the Moonclan, returned Balti who believe that Queen Balticourt had lived and would someday return, are chasing a dream. With Cal at her side, Mara keeps exploring, and she and Cal begin to bond. But after months away, Liam’s imminent return could spell the end of her mission, and her burgeoning relationship with Cal. Will Mara find the answers she seeks before it’s too late?
While it may appear that this is a love triangle romance, there isn’t any love lost between Liam and Mara and they are both in their relationship for self-serving reasons. Sex in this story is really all about power. Liam uses sex to show his displeasure with Mara for some of her actions by engaging in sex acts with another woman in front of her (and an audience). He then uses his power over Cal to make him perform oral sex on Mara, what’s supposed to be a punishment turning Mara’s head inside out with how good Cal makes her feel, while simultaneously realizing the mistake she’s made by not sharing her pleasure with Liam as they have always done in the past. Then by informing Mara that if she wants sex while he’s gone, she’ll get it from Cal and Cal only (and she must always be the initiator), Liam continues to use sex to keep control over her. He also requires Cal to report regularly to Liam what Mara does, including any sex they have. It’s a twisted relationship, but one that had served Mara’s purposes too, until now. With Cal, Mara at first treats him as Liam intends, a sex attendant of sorts, but as Liam’s separation from them lengthens, her relationship with Cal changes and Mara forgets that she’s supposed to be thinking of Liam while having sex with Cal. Cal challenges her, confronts her, listens to her, and protects her. It’s a heady feeling to have someone see her as her own person and not just as Liam’s appendage.
Relationship complexities aside, the worldbuilding is interesting and well developed, from the stifling feel of the spaceship with the ever present dark void outside the viewing windows, to the planet of Balti with its dusty atmosphere, powerful ocean and its relics of the past being slowly swallowed by the present. The tension builds as the story progresses and revelations increase the danger to Mara and Cal, especially as Liam is set to return. The ending is exciting and very satisfying. If you enjoy space opera type romances with lots of sex, I’d definitely recommend Queen of Dust.
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