Alien Scum. Royal Concubine. Destroyer of Traditions. Alyward Etain Ixtii detests the hate-wielding labels others place on her, but there is one label she wholeheartedly embraces—Mom. With her husband, Leigheas, their five children, and her goddaughter relying on her, Etain manages a careful balance between her family, her diplomatic career, and her problematic, opinionated breeding instinct dubbed She-Beast. But balance can’t help when Etain and her Human goddaughter, seventeen-year-old Brigit Feney, must run for their lives.
Brigit and Etain have been abducted and transported via stolen wormhole technology to the planet Clkya, where the primary government, Clkya Sa, sees them as meat-production livestock. When the militaristic Znyrs religious cult offers protection from the Cycalk meat markets, Etain accepts Defender Stra Ttla and her wife Yalntry Sar’s assistance and eventual affections, ensuring Brigit’s survival while denying herself thoughts of family and She-Beast her greatest desire—fellow captive, multi-lingual entomologist and Earth pagan, Mateo Sato.
However, Etain’s dreams and She-Beast’s cravings will be destroyed if Clkya Sa has its way. The blood-thirsty government wants its livestock returned and the Znyrs eliminated so they’re colluding with Etain’s old enemy, Usurer Serria, to accomplish their goals.
The hunt is on and survival is the only option.
Pairings: Includes NB, 4+ or Other
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 2
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Polyamorous
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Biological Urge to Mate, Families/Raising Kids, Married Life
Word Count: 115,000
Setting: Planets Gno', Takran, and Clkya
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
“Diani Fash Ixtii-Sternbow, stop playing with your hand-held!” Etain Ixtii’s growl held a practiced, parental edge. This would make the third time her eldest child had clicked off his hand-held, the third time—
“It’s not me!” Twelve-year-old Diani, with his dark mass of unruly curls, turned his head as the screen cut out again. Diani Fash liked practical jokes and mischief making. Nothing deliberately harmful but enough to keep him in trouble with his parents. “Everything on the ship’s acting wonky.” His image returned.
“Put your pala on.” Etain watched as Diani turned his hand-held to where Leigheas, her Takla husband-autalaci of thirteen years, stood talking to his students.
“Hey, Pala! Mom wants you!”READ MORE
“What? Oh.” Leigheas pulled out his hand-held from his pocket, and two view blocks appeared on the vid above Etain’s desk. “Hello, my love.” He squinted at the screen.
He missed his last vision adjustment. I’ll have to make him an appointment. “Our son is being himself.”
“Diani?” Leigheas looked to where the boy sat. Black hair, blue-black skin, dark eyes, and a lean build. Diani was a Gno’ worker by genetics but freeborn so he’d never know the subjugation his mother and biological father had faced. “What’s he done now?”
“He keeps clicking out of our conversation. Please remind him that—” Leigheas’ screen cut out at the same time as their son’s. So it’s not Diani being himself this time. Etain sighed and waited until Diani’s image reappeared.
“See, Mom? It’s not me!”
“Etain?” Leigheas returned as well.
“Why is the feed cutting out?” asked Etain.
“We’re on auxiliary power. They’re trying to reset the engines.”
“What is the problem?” Etain could hear the rumbles, see the lurches. Analeigh’s icon appeared on Etain’s hand-held. She tapped the vid, and the ten-year-old and her wild, red-brown, springy overmane filled a third block. Analeigh and her younger siblings were all Human-Alyward mixes— hybrid alien children according the less tolerant Takla court members. They’re all beautiful cubs. Analeigh’s eyes were a rich brown, her skin taupe with a slight blue undertone, and she was broader built than an Alyward child. “Yes, cub girl?”
“This transport is being weird.” Analeigh chewed on her bottom lip, bringing out the hints of pinkish Human tones deep within them.
Why do my children acquire my worst habits?
“See?” Diani Fash blurted. “It wasn’t me this time.” All three images on Etain’s vid shook, and a thin, dark smoke trail rose behind Diani. “Rashers!”
“Leigheas?” But he was talking to the crew. His students sat in small groups in the passenger cabin, including Diani and Analeigh. Oh, this age, so resistant to everything and anything parent-related.
“Keep your seats.” Leigheas’ gaze returned to his hand-held. “It’s a minor fire. A melted line or— I don’t know exactly.” But when his surroundings shuddered, he narrowed his dark-green eyes. “Minor fires don’t cause that. Hold on.” He shoved his hand-held in his pocket. “The Caplieri, please. Yes, I know she’s busy, but I have sixteen children under my charge.” Etain couldn’t understand his under-the-breath observations. “Caplieri Agusta, I know you’re in a hurry, but—”
“Everything’s under control, Instructor Leigheas.”
She sounds winded.
“We’ve run across some sort of energy wave. Nothing too serious, but both ships are adrift right now.”
“And the fire?” he asked.
“One of the auxiliary systems overheated.” Caplieri Agusta’s voice faded. “It’s already been extinguished. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
Leigheas pulled out his hand-held and smiled at Etain. “The Caplieri says—”
“You left the channel open.”
“Again?” He chuckled. “Bad habit. Sorry. See? Nothing serious.” But smoke continued to filter into the passenger cabin behind him. “Nothing serious,” he repeated as he turned to his students. “All right, kids. Quiet down. Move so four of you are sitting with each chaperone.” He spoke to one of the chaperones then returned to Etain. “Before you ask, they’ve already handed out breathers.”
“Good.” There’s nothing worse than fighting for air. Her throat tightened with memory. “You have a lot to deal with. Contact me when—”
“Please proceed to your designated evacuation position. This is not a drill.”
“They’re activating the life boats.” The message repeated behind him. “Once we’re aboard it’s official communication only.” He touched the vid. “Love you. Time to load the kids.”
“Love you too. Keep Diani and Analeigh with you.”
“I’ll bring them back, promise.” He closed his hand-held correctly this time.
“This is so rashers!” Diani Fash grinned. “We’re going down!”
“Stop frightening your sister.” And me. “Turn off your vid and go sit with Pala.”
“Diani Fash.” She growled to stress the situation.
“Love you. Now do it.”
“Love you too.” Diani Fash’s vid block closed, leaving only Analeigh.
“Can I sit with Pala too?” She pulled at another curl.
“Of course, you can. Love you, cub girl, now disconnect.”
“Love you too.” The vid went dark.
Etain scrolled her hand-held to contact Dresh. If anyone knows what’s going on, she will.
In the interest of honesty, I had the opportunity to proofread this novel. When I was asked to do so, I was thrilled. I loved the first book, and I was excited to see where the story was going. It was every bit as good as I'd anticipated.
One of the things I look for in a great book is excellent characters. There's no shortage in Surrogate's world. When Etain and Brigit are captured, it gives the opportunity to expand readers' understanding of yet another culture and the various beings within it.
First, there's Etain's ever-expanding family. Her species is a central female with a circle of people who each fulfill a different emotionally and/or physically intimate role in her life. They are woven together and around Etain, and it's a joy to watch these relationships deepen and change as they need. Besides the obvious celebration of polyamory, there are also some parallels to how we live and love and the places people hold in our "circles." It's beautiful and affirming.
On the flip side, there are some dark elements as well. But within those, there are rays of light. In the prior novel, I'd had the impression of the Cycalk as predators. That's only partially true. Etain and Brigit are initially kidnapped by the ruthless sort who want them for their potential to breed new meat. But there's another, deeply spiritual side to these beings, and they are complex and interesting. There's enough vivid detail to develop a good understanding of their world, but the main draw is the Cycalk themselves. We see through their eyes why the practitioners of Znyrs have chosen a different path and what the consequences are for those choices.
As always, I love Etain. She is the definition of a survivor. Her loyalty and fierce protection of the people she loves means she won't tolerate them being hurt. But her open-mindedness leaves her softened to new experiences and learning about other cultures. This is just the right blend of toughness and tender-heartedness and forms the core of the story.
The world-building here is fantastic. I like when I can uncover the secrets myself, through reading the story and getting to know the characters. As with the first book, we're thrown right into the deep end. It's not hard to catch up, since Etain is learning right along with us. Everything unfolds at a perfect pace. Not so fast that it's confusing, and not so slow as to become dull.
I don't want to reveal too much about the story itself because it's so fascinating, and anything I say would be both spoilers and pale in comparison. This is a world I can visit over and over and feel like there will always be something new to discover.
At its heart, this series is an anthem to survival and to the resilience of the spirit. It's an emotional and intellectual ride which I find wonderfully life-affirming. The series deserves to be read and re-read to catch all the metaphors and unlock the deep truths we might apply to our real world.
For phenomenal writing, a compelling story, and characters who feel real, this gets 5 stars. (less)