The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor in Strange Love, a romance about an abductee who decides to make the best of it when she finds herself fighting for her survival – and a mate – on a foreign world.
On Barath, you can’t just meet someone, fall in love and start a family. You must earn the right to procreate in a contest known as the Choosing. A test of both potential parents’ ability to protect their future young from all kinds of imagined dangers, it is part deadly obstacle course and part mortal combat. Only a handful of the many couples who compete will both make it all the way to the finish and earn the privilege to marry.
For Zylar of Kith B’alak this Choosing will be his last chance to find a nest-mate and gain status on his world. He has participated in the contest four other times and failed at various levels. Desperate to finally succeed, he has courted an off world Tiralan bride to join him in his final attempt at the tournament.
As he travels to pick up his intended, whom he has never seen a clear image of, he encounters a freak solar flare which severely damages his ship’s AI. Powering through the issue brings him to a desecrated landscape where a lone female and her furry companion survey the wreckage with sorrow. Zylar, convinced this is his fiancé, snatches them both from the rubble and brings them on board his ship.
An excess of drink and absence of caution led to a run in with police and community service for Beryl Bowman who, accompanied by her dog Snaps, is paying her debt to society by cleaning up the mess left behind after a Medieval battle reenactment. The last thing she expects is for a strange light to appear in the sky and for her and Skip to pass out immediately afterward, only to awaken on a strange ship – but that’s exactly what happens. Then he enters:
The alien—oh God, an alien—stood over two meters, mottled green and brown, with light striping along the sides. Two arms, two legs, but that was where the similarity to humans stopped. It had arched and scaly feet like a bird, and three fingers tipped with ferocious claws. Spines grew out of the creature’s skull and ran down the back, while side-set eyes looked faintly insectoid. No ears or nose, just slits in the face plate, and what looked like a maw or a beak. The alien had what she’d call a thorax more than a chest, and prickly things growing out of the…neck? While she stared, tissue puffed out, thickening its throat with transparent webbing.
It’s a horrifying moment made worse by the fact that he snaps, clicks and churrs while she prattles on about not having nuclear codes or access to anyone who knows them. Clearly, communication is going to be a problem. This hurdle is solved when he implants a translator in her and in Snaps. Now she can talk to – and understand – both her dog and the alien. Unfortunately, the latter has only bad news.
Apparently, Zylar had raced like a bat out of hell away from Earth, convinced he’d plucked her from some type of Apocalypse. But with his damaged AI, he’s not sure he can ever find it again to return her. He certainly won’t be able to do that without making a stop at Barath for some serious repairs. And since they must head to Barath anyway, he wonders if Beryl will agree to take part in the trials with him, since his chance of picking up his affianced at this point is nil.
Beryl doesn’t see that she has much choice. (In fairness, Beryl is all instincts and not much thought, so choice exists, she just doesn’t see it.) When Snaps advises her to go for it, she says yes to Zylar’s proposal.
Zylar knows that while Beryl’s appearance is fearsome, she has soft skin, blunt teeth and her appendages lack claws, which will put her at a disadvantage in the Choosing battles. But she surprises him – she uses her wits, agility and speed to move rapidly up in the ranks. Her naturally friendly nature has made her an ally and she is dominating her portion of the games. Now Zylar’s concerns take on a whole different note. He has to wonder if he will prove worthy of her – or if another, better contestant will win her heart.
This is a light, fun read starring a sweet beta hero and a kindhearted, creative young woman who finally finds her chance to shine. Beryl hasn’t come from a supportive family and her life on Earth was a mess, with student loans, a badly paying job, a string of loser boyfriends and no prospects for the future. On Barath, she has Zylar, makes a good friend of a sentient plant called Kurr and for the first time in her life feels like she really excels at something. Her gymnastics classes, which had been of no use in her past life, are proving extremely useful in acing the games. And Zylar is kinder, gentler and wiser than any of the previous men in her life.
Zylar is insecure. Having been compared to an older, far more accomplished sibling most of his life and being considered very plain among his own kind, he has never felt successful. Beryl’s support makes him realize he is worth something and spurs him on to greater achievement.
Their romance, while containing some hot, cross species sex, is very saccharine in nature. Beryl and Zylar value each other, and for two people who have never experienced that before, it is a wonderous feeling. Zylar is respectful of all Beryl’s wants and needs and does his best to see they are met. Beryl admires Zylar’s innate goodness and helps him to see that his thoughtfulness and contemplative nature are not weaknesses, as his nest-mate made him believe, but attributes she very much values in a potential mate. They fall in love easily because they are both so easy to love.
The plot here revolves around surviving the games and becoming mated. There is lots of action, a bit of skullduggery when it is discovered someone is attempting to influence the outcomes of the contest, and plenty of airy, cheery humor.
Strange Love doesn’t ask many deep questions, nor does the narrative stand up under close scrutiny. But it’s a fun, fast read for sci-fi romance fans and I would recommend it to that audience.