Notleia note: This is another one I submitted to Speculative Faith but got turned down because it “felt like a blog post.” So here it is on a blog. I did try to compromise on views of sexual content by means of utter ridiculousness, but I’m not sure how effective it was.
I feel like I have to start with a disclaimer, because I met the author, L.J. Popp, at an anime/manga convention in my state. Otherwise I never would have heard of her or her book, and I feel like I need to support my local bros. She’s pretty cool. She spent a year or so in Japan, teaching English, and now offers Japanese and Spanish lessons through Skype. Except she uses full-immersion, and that doesn’t necessarily work for me.
Anyway, her novel Treasure Traitor is Christian fiction, the first of a series (trilogy, I think?), but oh glob, that title. I get that she’s playing on “treasure trader,” a term from her world building, but I’m just not feeling it. At all. Nope.
Renagada is a high-born kakra who is gifted as a monara, a person who can form mental connections to animals. Her monarant is Acha, a carrion eater, and carrion eaters are taboo and evil in her culture. She runs away from home on the night before her wedding because her parents were planning to kill Acha. She shares an unusually deep bond with him, which also brings her under suspicion because she can’t make any other monarant, which is unusual and concerning. This is important because MONOGAMY, MOTHERFLUFFERS is a huge theme in this book. I’m a fan of monogamy, but I am not so much a fan of unsubtlety like this. Fortunately this story offers other things.
It’s pretty creative, this desert world in a universe of other magically gifted races, like people who can manipulate the elements or have psychokinesis or telepathy. There is a war going on between the Hierarchy, Renagada’s people, and the Kingdom, and Renagada finds herself caught up in a military regiment after she runs away, which is at least good because she has pretty much no idea of where she should go with Acha. Except Hathor, the Head Monara, is a huge jerkwad and there’s so much backstabbing and power-whoring (like, literally) among the monara women who gain status and influence through the male commanders. But she makes a friend, Jasic, who Acha doesn’t like because romaaaaaaaance is in the aaaaaiiir between them, though Renagada feels conflicted because she was genuinely attached to her betrothed, Vasaran.
Then they are sent to a battle against the Kingdom, and Renagada finds out that war is hell. Jasic watches her back and promises to help her escape the unit and Hathor, and that night they get a little too close and, oops, premarital happens.
But don’t worry; it completely ruins everything between them! Because sex is magical like that, because genitals are like grenades that blow off your limbs and then they recycle your body into RoboCop. …Wait, I’m supposed to be discouraging premarital, aren’t I?
Um……..ladyparts naturally produce strong acid that men are only immune to after a wedding ceremony. And that’s why newborns are red, wrinkly, and squishy, because they get ever so slightly pickled when they go through the birth canal. That is how that works, yes.
Oh, book review! Right, right.
So while Jasic doesn’t welch on Renagada’s escape, they fight, and now they hate each other. Much sad panda for Renagada, abrupt at this plot development feels, but at least she still has Acha. But he’s growing old, and she’s afraid he’ll die soon, and she wants to find this rumored half-blood, Pariah, whose specialty is speaking to carrion eaters and who might know a way to extend his life.
Blahblahblah, she finds a way off-world to the planet this halfer Pariah lives on, and she’s completely weirded out when she finds the village she lives in, where all races live together pretty well and they aren’t even strict about hierarchy. Pariah, whose real name is Charis (SYMBOLISM, MOTHERFLUFFERS), says that the Terrians probably have knowledge about Acha’s problem, since their relationships, with monarant or with mates, are super monogamous like theirs.
So they go to the Terrian planet and try to find a way to save Acha’s—and Renagada’s—life, since they are so interconnected that it’s likely Rena will die when Acha does. And all of a sudden, Renagada’s betrothed, Vasaran, shows up to rescue her. Except he says she has to get rid of Acha because he ruins everything. Renagada feels this as a super-huge betrayal, so she refuses to return home Vasaran. So he feels betrayed and calls her a traitor and much FEELINGS happen. Then some teaser for the next book.
As for the religious bits, Renagada’s Hierarchy is polytheistic, but the Kingdom is said to have only one god, King. So far this is looking pretty predictable, especially when Charis says junk about servant love and mercy in relation to King. And monogamy in relation to King. And their symbol is a cross. Maybe this inches a lot closer to “really frakking obvious” rather than “predictable,” but so far it walks without much limp.
So the plot’s a bit weird and shifty-feeling, but the character development is good. Everybody has motivations, so you can see why Rena’s parents want Acha gone/dead and how strong Rena’s and Acha’s bond is and why Jasic or Vasaran is mostly good dude but also capable of being huge toolbag.
Also, points for creative punctuation, with <brackets> being used to differentiate Acha’s telepathic-type speech.