My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s not often that I will give an i-am-the-wrong-reader tag to a 4-star book. Peyton 313 is well-written, intelligent, emotional SFR that I should 100% love, except for all of the rape (my trigger point). It’s sad, but it means I will probably never read another of Donna McDonald’s books and I wouldn’t have read this one either had I known.
The Good: Concept, plot, science, characters, awesome series.
I love, love, love the concept. War heroes converted against their knowledge or will into mindless “Cyber Husband” gigolos for corporate profit are given back their memories and free will. There are also prisoners, kidnap victims, and others forced to become cyborgs. It’s a bit of the 1940s eugenics plus forced sterilization in a corporate government state. I think future books will continue the fight.
The characters are highly sympathetic. The war heroes who gave their own bodies to serve their country only to be betrayed at their homecoming strikes an all-too-plausible nerve. The heroine, cyborg creator Kyla, cries her whole way through each free will “restoration” out of guilt for her complicity in making the cyborg program work originally and in not speaking out against the Cyber Husband program when it was later implemented.
How Kyla and Peyton fight the corporation is highly satisfying, as are the surprises, twists, betrayals, and final resolution.
The Meh: Sex, pacing, conversation, rape.
So Kyla is in her fifties and Peyton is also (although we are told he has the body of a 25-year-old). They have what I would call “mature” sex, which is something I haven’t really read up to now. There is no hot explosion of passion, and there’s lots of conversation and multiple previous partners, so it’s definitely like two multiple-divorcees/widow/ers getting together in the sack. I prefer a bit more passion, but that is a personal preference. It’s still touching and sweet, and they obviously love each other. Yay!
I would say that 3/4 of the book is conversation, which considering how much stuff gets electrified or destroyed, causes the book to feel slow and out of balance at parts. Kyla talks a lot. Peyton, once he becomes human, points this out and then also fills more than his fair share of pages. I feel like a lot of it could have been cut. It really slows the pacing, even as it reveals their emotional states. Oh, and I strongly preferred Peyton as an eloquent robot to the dick-saluting, “Whatever you say, Doc,” human. Again, this is stylistic and just my personal preference.
The real problem for me is the rape trigger points, of which there are multiple examples in this book(view spoiler)[: Kyla, Gloria, Marshall.
Kyla is a sexual trauma survivor. This isn’t revealed until quite far into the book, and it’s a key plot point, so it’s not gratuitous or done just to make us hate the villains. It doesn’t affect her ability to have sex with Peyton. Honestly, it’s told so obliquely that it’s not completely clear what all happened except that she had non-consensual sex with three mysterious men at the request of her husband. She gave consent to have sex with one stranger, but while she was tied up and blindfolded, two more forced her to do things she had not consented to while her husband watched. This sounded like a horrible rape, honestly. I am very sorry it happened to her, and I wish it hadn’t. She later finds out who the men were when one of them attempts to rape her a second time. She converts one to a cyborg and puts herself in power over the other two. If this backstory was the only rape in this book, I would probably read the next in the series, but sex trauma seems to be a strong recurring theme in McDonald’s oeuvre.
Marshall, a failed restoration, is the second sexual trauma survivor. He was sexually abused during his POW days, and being forced to face those memories causes him to lose the will to live.
Gloria is a kidnap victim who was converted to a cyborg to become one of the villain’s sex slaves. I believe, although I could be wrong, that she is the heroine of Marcus’s book.
I guess technically, all of the Cyber Husbands are rape survivors, as they were forced to have sex without their consent. This is not explicitly mentioned, but it’s definitely there and so the rest of the examples certainly fit. And I get it, I do. But I just refuse to read rape novels, not even hopeful survivor tales where there is some measure of justice (hide spoiler)].
Ironically, in the back of this book (Kindle edition) there is an excerpt of Book 6 in a completely different SFR series. Although it’s only two chapters long, that’s enough for us to learn that the heroine and her sister were repeatedly loaned out or sold by their powerful father to be victimized in violent or non-consensual sex. This is common on the world and causes many to escape. Home again by trickery, she is imprisoned and intending to be sold once again.
Clearly “sexual trauma survivor” is one of McDonald’s major themes. I strongly prefer NOT to have this element present in my pleasure reading, so I will not be picking up any further books, sadly.