Author ~ Katie Howe
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 26th October 2015
Genre ~ Science Fiction M/M Romance
On an earthlike planet ruled by the Elite, a rite called “the Gleaning” is used to select suitable spouses for those of merit. Nico Stamford is a member of the Geisha class. Though he has been trained for marriage all his life, becoming a healer and a priest in the process, all he wants is to cook and open a restaurant. Instead he becomes a candidate for the ritual. He hopes the Goddess will look kindly on him and eliminate him before the final choices are made. Alex DeVrie is a member of the Warrior class who has recently returned triumphant from a clash with an alien enemy. Made a duke of the Sixth Land as a reward, all Alex needs now is a husband. As soon as Alex sets eyes on Nico, he refuses to settle for anyone else.
Tradition says they can part ways after a year and a day. But love begins to grow as they unravel the mystery behind tragic events in the Sixth Land, and they uncover a conspiracy that could change their society.
If I was asked to describe this book in just one short phrase, that phrase would be ‘Georgette Heyer in space’ – also a bit like a cupcake but I’ll explain that later. On the one hand there are all the familiar comedies of manners, the ritualistic behaviours, the rigid hierarchies, beautiful clothing and obvious disparity between the haves and the have nots. On the other, these have been applied to a very alien culture.
Alex DeVrie is the titular warrior, well born, handsome and accomplished general of the planetary defence force. Newly returned from war he has been greeted with adulation and has been rewarded by the ruling family with the dukedom of a huge tract of land. He has also been offered the opportunity to stand as a suitor in the latest round of The Gleaning.
The Gleaning is a system by which promising children are handed over to a religious sect to be groomed into being suitable spouses for the upper classes. They are trained in political strategy, in diplomacy, self defence, first aid, and other practical matters but also in the gentler arts – music, singing, dancing, painting and in what goes on in the bedroom. Over the years the children are culled – which I think means they are dismissed and transferred to other less exacting schools – until by the time The Gleaning comes around the suitors are left with seven perfect candidates to choose from and to use as help meet, aide de camp, pastime and toy for a year and a day.
On the face of it, there seems to be no reason for Nico to be there. He’s bored, easily distractable, uncoordinated, doesn’t pay attention in classes and is fixated on cooking [a proscribed activity for young gentlefolk, that’s servants work]. However he is utterly beautiful and very gentle and sweet natured and while he may not have paid any attention in the ‘how to please ones husband in bed’ classes, he’s quite eager to give sex a go.
However, Nico is more than a pretty face and that’s just as well because it’s soon apparent that he and Alex, in fact the whole planet, have enemies, some less obvious than others, and that their entire way of life may be under threat.
As I read the book I kept wondering if I was on the right track with it because there were things about particularly Nico’s behaviour that I didn’t understand. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I hadn’t paid enough attention at the beginning where Nico is described as being of the geisha class and I should be viewing it as a written expression of those dreamily gorgeous graphic novels with what I believe are called semes and ukes. The gruff broad shouldered warrior, captivated by one glimpse of a shy blond in a sailor suit?
Anyhow, I’m sort of hoping that this book is the first of a series because I’ve got so many questions unanswered. Underlying the pretty and somewhat fluffy romance plot, there’s a political conspiracy designed to destabilise the monarchy, conflict between the religious and secular, starvation amongst the commons, disruption of agricultural practices and some thoroughly nasty characters who need a good slap. Very exciting stuff. Also, this story is planet bound and I’d love to see what the alien races make of Nico.
A cupcake? Yes, I feel as though with this book I’ve worked my way through the icing with enough sprinkles of enticing plot to keep me interested, but I hope that the story will continue with a bit more substance. I really enjoyed Alex and his friends, gruff Sgt Watkins, the ruling house of princes ranging from sensible to utterly daft, and the feeling that at any moment guns were going to be drawn, or there’d be a mushroom cloud on the horizon. I want more and I really hope the author will provide it.