This sounded like it would be a fun, however rather unoriginal, book. Alien princess and her enemy fall in love. It's your standard queen and commoner love story, only here, the queen is an alien who happens to be humanoid, and the commoner is actually a half-breed alien/human hybrid who is an outcast. The harshness of this desert landscape, the rituals of alien society, and the strong voices of Kora and Eros, our two narrators, made me think that this story could work, especially as a fun, cozy sort of book where you pretty much know what's going to happen. As long as Kora and Eros were apart, it did work. And then they met and oh, dear. The up-til-now decent writing was tossed aside in favor of lots of heavy breathing and nipples. But more on that later. Nipplessssss.
Eros lives with human rebels/outcasts/invaders/nomads on Sepharon, and they are constantly on the move, alert to the presence of the indigenous people. Now isn't that just like humanity? They land on a planet to colonize, not realizing that hey, it's already got inhabitants, thank you very much, and then moan about how these people want "us" off their planet. What happens in every single alien invasion movie? Humans kick the aliens out, right? So why wouldn't the reverse situation be expected? I suppose the answer is that humans are so full of themselves that we expect ourselves, as a species, to be hailed as AWESOME wherever we go in the galaxy. Or, you know, we're just major hypocrites.
As a half-breed, Eros should have been killed at birth. For some reason, he was not. His mother brought him to the humans in the desert to be raised by the headman of the group. This man and his wife loved Eros and raised him alongside their own son, Day. With the love of his adopted family, Eros survives the withering glares of his tribespeople and the knowledge that they would dearly like to just kill him off. Day has exhorted him to be vigilant at all times, but Eros reasons that they've never even seen a Sepharon alien (just wait, sonny boy, you'll see a lot more than you ever thought), so eh, no big deal. Until some kids from his own camp kidnap him and sell him to Sepharon soldiers, along with his nephew Aron. Thankfully, Day comes to rescue his son and brother, but alas! It is the old tracked-vessel-trick (think the stormtroopers in A New Hope setting fire to Owen and Beru's farm) and most everyone has been slaughtered by the Sepharon. After watching his family die, Eros is tortured by one of the soldiers until the Queen herself--el Avra--stops it.
Kora, who is the Avra, or ruler, of her region of the planet, has a tenuous grasp on power. Her people hate her; her soldiers doubt her. So when she receives information that a group of redbloods (what the Sepharon uncomfortably call humans) was responsible for an attack on her life, she wishes to prove herself to her soldiers by ordering a retaliatory strike. A massacre in which innocent women and children die--but not Eros. As soon as Kora sees him, she says to herself, "He's strong--in body and spirit. I need him."
I really should have just stopped here, but I was hoping for more wild adventures in the sands (not that kind! Hush now). Alas, I was far too trusting, and went on. If you like alien/human romance, you'll dig this, I think; I will caution that the quality of the prose declines and that there's really no plot after the halfway mark. If you are still fine with that, please proceed.
However, I am probably far too practical about love and romance for my own good. I won't go so far as to say that I am a Charlotte Lucas ("I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins' character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance at happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."); I would never marry for security or because I'm expected to do so--and many people expect me to do so, let me tell you. The notion that a woman cannot be happy on her own without having herself a MAN is, for many people, incomprehensible. This is why I often find fault with so much romance writing, and why it simply isn't the genre for me.
Evidently, I need to have a tangent in every blixxing review I write. Sorry about that. Just ... comes over me. That was an Austenian hijacking, ladies and gentlemen. Now, you may be better prepared to identify and neutralize them in the future, if you so wish. Possible other threats include the Dickensian, the Hellerian, and the Star Warsian tangents. Be on your guard.
I kept moving along with the book because Kora receded into the background for a moment, and we follow Eros and his fellow captives through the intricate process of becoming a slave for the Sepharon. It's a fascinatingly complex, painful, and disorienting process. They're tattooed, completely depilated (or is it epilated???), and dunked in a mixture that tints their skin a chalky white. The slaves know that their former lives and selves are dead; they belong to their Sepharon masters completely.
However, the captain of the elite guard, Jarek, has a beef with Eros, and he and his flunkies beat him up until Kora, once again, intervenes. This time, Jarek has gotten Kora's twin brother, Dima, involved as well. Kora's reign is unstable because the people don't believe that a female Avra can be an effective leader; Dima's retaliatory nature is mistaken by most as decisiveness. Kora demands that Eros be her personal attendant, which infuriates her brother.
Then a lot of stuff just sort of happens, because what the narrative focuses on is how often Kora and Eros look at each other. You know, look at each other. But, alas! She is a queen and he is a detestable half-breed slave! They can never be together! Alack!
It really all started when Kora rescued Eros and he wakes up from being almost beaten to death and notices her breasts (I guess the galaxy is full of humanoid aliens with mammary glands that serve the same function as humans): "Why'd she chose to have [her tattoo script] written there, leading from the bottom of her ribcage, up to her smooth, round breast? Is her breast tattooed, too?" Now, I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but a) OUCH and b) why does everyone in literature have really nice boobs? It makes me cranky.
Kora tests Eros' fighting abilites while going commando in a skirt. Poor Eros. " I've got a full view of her whole golden brown leg. And if I left any higher..." yes, you will see her ladyparts. Alienparts? I seriously do not comprehend how these two species happen to be sexually compatible and able to produce viable offspring. And while both Kora and Eros bemoan the whole "half-breeds are horrible" planetary policy, that does not stop them from cuddling in bed.
1. You are this person's slave.
2. This person is ruler on a planet where your people are hunted down and killed.
3. This person ordered the attack on your family's encampment and sanctioned their murder.
Any one of those reasons would be sufficient to dissuade any normal person from losing their marbles over seeing a girl's nipples! Priorities. Eros does not have them. Then again, check out his name.
So in between gazing lustfully at each other, Kora and Eros get involved in political intrigue and more stuff happens and then the reader runs into the ending like a brick wall. It's just there. Surprise!
If there had been more focus on worldbuilding and intrigue and a lot less (like 2000% less, at least) on perfect breasts and collarbones and so forth, Beyond the Red would have been a fun sci-fi. But it seems determined to give Defy a run for its money in the creepy, inappropriate bodyguard department.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.