My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not 100% sure how to rate this book. I was quite excited to read it because the premise is interesting and I’m writing my own similar robot sfr right now. The first half is probably a 4-4.5 stars for me due to the interesting set-up, but unfortunately the second half drops to 2 for execution.
Our heroine Sabralia is one of the neglected young wives of an evil dictator. Because she never gave him an heir, he has decided to turn her into a sex worker to service his military officers at the next banquet. She concocts a plan to escape that fate by tricking her dumb cyborg servant (a spy for the harem manager) into reporting that she is meeting a fictional officer on the beach, away from any witnesses.
Then (view spoiler)[there is a mysterious coup. She wisely stays on the beach, away from notice. Her cyborg has to miss two nightly maintenance cycles, which are apparently also the only things keeping him under the dictator’s control. And then (hide spoiler)], as advertised, her cyborg awakes.
The beginning is quite engaging. Sabralia is a very sympathetic character. She wasn’t schooled beyond sixteen, when she was given to the dictator in a treaty to protect her home world. She has survived okay in the harem by completely isolating herself, and even though the schooling issue bothers her, she still manages to make smart choices that control her destiny.
There is some yummy sexiness right at the beginning in the shower with the cyborg, but it’s also sweet and sad because she’s so lonely and he’s so clearly not sentient.
The rape-threat trope, which usually really bothers me as a trigger point, didn’t this time because (view spoiler)[ it’s really just a device to get the book started, the author doesn’t dwell on anything nasty, and the heroine neatly avoids it. Whew. (hide spoiler)]
Her cyborg is actually a warrior prince named Kaistril. He prefers hard, dangerous military women, not sweet, soft Sabralia. While they get to know each other as people, he teaches her useful skills (how to pilot and maintain a space ship, for example) and she begins to blossom.
However, then there is the second half of the book. Spoilers!
(view spoiler)[Kaistril becomes disabled by leftover cyborg implants, leaving Sabralia to navigate a lawless space station. She has to anonymously sell jewelry and the ship, arrange a safe hotel, and stay under the radar of the bad guys who have been following them. Sounds pretty adventurous!
Except…the jewelry dealer asks no questions (?), she lifts her chin to dissuade the lawless young men who may or may not look at her one time, the agent who arranges her hotel stay sends her to a nice hotel in a nice part of town run by an honest, moral family who help them out, and the ship’s sale just goes swimmingly. The bad guys go to the wrong hotel room a few times and murder other people. She doesn’t find out about it until later. Nobody asks any questions. Nobody looks at them twice. There’s this build-up for danger and then nothing happens.
This part is probably only ten pages, but I swear, it felt like a thousand. I started skimming trying to get to the point.
The problem with it is that Sabralia demonstrates no skills. Things just happen to her. She gets lucky that her hotel people are honest, and that her agent wasn’t in the pocket of some local warlord. Luck is not interesting unless it’s bad luck. Where was the smart woman who figured out how to use her limited powers and resources to outwit the evil dictator and his harem manager? Wherever she went, it was apparently not to this station, which seems extremely law abiding and safe actually. 🙁
Then Kaistril’s brothers show up to save them. They become the new villains when they decide – without questioning Sabralia, based on practically no evidence – that she is a security risk and needs to be sent back to her home world. The consequences of this will be that she will put her home world at risk if her evil husband survived the coup, but they don’t know because they never conversed.
Now, when Kaistril wakes up, he correctly freaks out. But what seriously bothered me about this was REALLY??? It was such a stupid choice on his brothers’ part that I feel concern about their ability to fight a war. Don’t they have smarter people advising them? It’s a miracle they haven’t already been wiped out.
Sabralia’s smart self returns and she manages to avoid her captors (yay!) and make alternate plans (double yay!). Unbeknownst to her, she has an ID transmitter that is leading the bad guys to her. (Note: Why didn’t this lead the bad guys to her earlier in the hotel? There may have been a plot reason that I read at the time. I can’t remember now, even though I finished the book yesterday.) Kaistril and his brothers redeem themselves by saving her.
Then, instead of racing back to the ship, she and Kaistril are instructed to go sight-seeing (?) which they then translate into returning to her rooms (!!!!) to get her stuff and actually to have reunion sex.
The sex is nice, but my mouth was hanging open. How do they know there’s only a few bad guys? How do they know that her new hotel room hasn’t been compromised? How stupid are the bad guys?
Answer: Apparently as stupid as the brothers.
That is what really bothered me about the second half. In the first half, she’s a victim of circumstances but she pluckily rises above them. In the second half, she possesses stolen jewels, a stolen ship, and valuable security intelligence against the most powerful intergalactic dictator of their time. He may be dead, maybe not. But if there is enough organization left in his military to chase after one little ship, aren’t they going to do it right?
An editor once said that the smarter and more powerful you make your villains, the smarter and more interesting your heroes must become to rise to the challenge. This book really demonstrates that truth. Unfortunately, the villains are absent or half-assed, so the heroes just kind of float to the ending without facing any real challenges. And, since so much was set up (Lawless space station! Evil dictator! Disabled hero + vulnerable heroine!) it was really disappointing to see all of the hot water evaporate away, leaving only a tepid few inches that the protagonists easily splashed through. (hide spoiler)]
So, I liked this book okay, but since it had the potential to be so much more, I finished it with a lingering sense of disappointment. I will probably give the author one more chance, but maybe not at full price.
FYI- there are a few spelling/formatting errors, but nothing that would really detract from my enjoyment of the story.