Worker. Trade Agent. Serf. Etain Ixtii detests the labels others give her, but there are some things she must accept. She was genetically designed to do specific tasks. Her breeding instincts interrupt her life every forty-five days. But workers like Etain are taught not to question so when she returns from training questioning her home world Gno's profit-based caste system, she risks her life. She doesn't want to be an agent and doesn't want to cross through the wormhole to never return.
Usurer Serria, the owner of Etain's birth and training debt, quickly tires of her problem worker and launches Etain through a collapsing wormhole so she can collect the insurance payout. Very bad business indeed, but Etain manages to survive the attempt, arriving on the other side plagued by debilitating headaches and hounded by a dangerous insectoid enemy that no one, including Leigheas Sternbow, the Takla royal physician, and Mercine Feney, the Empire's powerful female leader, can make disappear.
Publisher: Not Currently Available
Pairings: 4+ or Other
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Polyamorous
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Biological Urge to Mate, Cultural Differences
Word Count: 104,000
Setting: Planets Gno' and Takran
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Chapter One: Drowning
“An agent’s coffin?” A male spoke in muffled Terran Common. “It’s crushed! How’d it survive entry?”
“Pure luck.” Another male voice as muffled as the first. “Watch yourselves. It’s still hot.”
Are they wearing masks too?
“Didn’t the Alyward send word of a four month delay?”
“Wormhole time distortion,” said someone. “It always makes sending and receiving between worlds a little off.”
“Then how long was this coffin in there?”
“Long enough for the gravity to play havoc.”
Trade Agent Etain Ixtii tried to call out, but any sound she made remained trapped behind her breather. I made it! I survived! But she knew she was injured.
“Glad it’s in the shallows,” said another voice. Female? READ MORE Maybe, but Alyward gender-based inflections weren’t the same as this world’s. “Brr. I thought it was spring.”
“Late cold snap. Say, why’s the Royal Physician here?”
“Witness for the death log.”
“Foreign particles check negative.”
“Rad counts are down.”
Get me out of this fly box! She struggled in her straps.
“Careful, Fiam,” said a soothing, male voice. “Splash water on those handles. Everyone use gloves. Easy now. I don’t want to treat my own staff. And use your masks. We don’t know if any micro-contaminants survived entry.” Pressure, light, and stifling humidity flooded over Etain. “Body intact?”
I’m here! Etain gagged when she inhaled.
“Yes. No, wait! The agent’s still alive!”
Splashing sounds increased around the coffin.
“Hold on. It doesn’t look good.” This accent was different than the others.
“Decontaminate the case interior before you touch anything,” someone said and a cool mist coated her exposed skin.
Am I alive or hearing dead? She had to be alive—too much pain. And now they were touching her, taking off her breather, loosening the straps and—a hand ran down her front.
“Isn’t the trade agent female?”
“Affirmative, but what’s that projecting from under her left hip?”
Everything stopped. What’re they doing?
A hand slid beneath her. No! Don’t! They bite!
“It looks like—what is that?”
“A leg! Another life form crossed with her!”
“Where is it?”
They removed her straps and rolled her side-to-side, searching for—Panpobal! She could move if she wanted but her head—her neck—she managed to reach one hand to her face. I’ve got to warn them, have to—
“Found it!” A woman yelled, but her voice suddenly rose out of Etain’s range.
Etain thrashed in her case when they pinned her. Kill them! Kill them! She lost track of the sounds, but when she next woke the straps were tight again. Why? She arched against their hold.
“Don’t.” Someone pushed her down. “Where’s the last float?”
“On its way.”
Several someones talked in Takla, but their voices pitched out of her range. The Takla vocal range was massive, and the wider the tonal shift the more emotion was involved. She understood little without an aural modifier. What’s wrong?
She opened her mouth—nothing.
“Don’t,” said the Soother. “You’re swollen.”
She tried to pain growl but only gurgled. Medi’s tears! What’s wrong with me?
“Where’s the float?”
“The watch leader called. Captain Dresh ordered her taken to the guard tower.” Another woman talked in Terran Common but barely within Etain’s range. “She’s on her way.”
Captain? Etain struggled to remember the word’s meaning. Captain. Rank. Tasker? Why? Medi’s tears, I can’t think straight.
“Tell her to take her time,” said the Soother. “This one’s my patient before she’s an inmate.”
Inmate? Her breath stopped in her throat.
“Her throat’s closing.” The Soother’s voice skipped octaves. “Get my kit.”
“The float will be here momentarily,” said someone. “Shouldn’t we get her onboard and inside first?”
Why can’t I breathe? Was she under water? Were they trying to drown her? Too much water. Too little air. Am I drowning? They tilted her head and shoved something into her mouth, trying to force it down her throat. She gagged and tried to growl at them, but they kept trying, scraping the back of her mouth and throat until—No! I can’t breathe!
They jerked the device from her throat. “It’s gone,” said the Soother. “Let’s try the trachea.” Something cold swiped across Etain’s throat and a hand pushed back her collar to expose her right shoulder.
“Are you sure you can do that on her species?”
“I’ll not lose her too. Torrents! How many times has she been bitten?” The Soother. “Other side.” Her shoulders and upper arms were exposed to heavy, wet air. “Someone get that metal band off her right arm before it cuts her circulation.”
No! Only my usurer can remove it! She fought them harder than ever.
“There’s a spot.” Something cold stung her shoulder, and someone pushed her back into the case.
No! I can’t go back! Her body was sinking, regressing…I can’t move.
“Hand me the small blade and the short tube.”
Medi’s tears! They’re going to kill me!COLLAPSE
On finishing this book, all I can say is, wow. It's a journey into an incredibly detailed and complex world. Set aside some time for this one because it takes time to become fully immersed. There's no warning: readers are thrown right into the deep end. All the world-building unfolds slowly over time as Etain reveals herself and her history.
I prefer books that take me right into the thick of things. I don't need pages of explanatory text or for each new discovery (technology, political system, social mechanics) to be given the same weight as character development. It was easy enough to understand Etain's home world as well as the world in which she ends up without all that. Of much more interest were the intricacies of her various relationships to other beings.
Roughly the first half or a bit more is devoted to Etain acclimating to her new surroundings. This includes the development of her romantic, sexual, and friend relationships. Although there is some tension with the insects she's unintentionally brought with her from her home world, this is largely more interpersonal and character development. The second half has much more of the action and political intrigue. I liked the contrast.
During the relationship-building stage, I appreciated the differences in how Etain views things compared to the others. I loved how each of their personalities comes into play as they all learn what Etain needs from them. There's no descriptive sex, but there's plenty of sensuality that ranges from delightfully playful to soft and tender. The characters are creating a life with each other, and although we only see through Etain's eyes, we still get a sense of the feelings of the people she's with.
The characters are all well-drawn and three-dimensional, even the villains. I think Dresh might be my favorite, but it would be a challenge to explain why without spoilers. Userer Serria is a terrific Big Bad, and I love the way the story arc ends (or rather, doesn't quite). It will be exciting to see what happens in the next installment.
All of the things I loved about this (single point of view, lots of character development, world-building throughout the story, cliffhangers) are things that other readers may enjoy less. However, the writing style is excellent, and those elements all come together well to weave an outstanding tale. I'm looking forward to the next part of the series.
For wonderful characters, just the right amount of world-building, and a gripping story, this gets 10/10 fountain pens. (less)