Jelvia: Not Human #1 — Holding out for a Hero, by T E Kessler (Louise Wise)

I enjoyed reading this book, but when asked what kind of book it is, this book is difficult to categorize.  It is a sci-fi romance with graphically erotic scenes, but it is also part one of an allegorical commentary on race relations, xenophobia, and how love can bridge chasms.  It is well written and the principal characters are layered and interesting.  I would have enjoyed the story just as well without the sex scenes (not that I didn’t enjoy them).  I wonder, though, how many readers looking for erotica will wish the surrounding story wasn’t so dominant and substantial, and how many sci-fi and even romance fans will find the sex scenes a little too graphic.  But it certainly makes for an interesting read!

The story is about an inter-species love affair between Macy, the protagonist, a human female journalist, and Narcifer, a Jelvian male.  Jelvians are super-humans with retractable claws who can shoot venomous projectiles from their mouths.  Humans fear them, but Macy is curious and wants to write about them.  When she and Narcifer begin a hot love affair (hot!), the question is who is using whom to further what larger plan?  The plot gets intricate and at times a bit confusing, but the focus is always on whether love can conquer all.

The best aspects of the book are it’s clear prose, the well-developed characters, and the relationship — and heat — between Macy and Narcifer.  It’s a story that holds your interest over a lengthy book.  The over-arching story that bleeds into the sequel is not as compelling, but still fun to try to figure out.

There are a few problems with the story, the biggest being the author’s failure to explain where the Jelvians came from.  There is no historical context to explain the current state of the world.  Jelvians walk among humans, but instill fear and hatred, even though they seem to be killing only criminals.  We are told that the government, aided by the media, have created the fear-frenzy about Jelvians, but the backstory is murky.  We know that Jelvians are nearly as numerous as humans (how did that happen?), but there don’t seem to be that many of them around.  Where do they live?  Why don’t the police (or army) even try to reign in their killing?  What is the Jelvian government like? How is it that Jelvians achieved their own lands and nations?  There are so many questions that are never answered that it detracts a bit from the present story.  The base plot is also a bit thin, with the mysterious human with multiple identities trying to manipulate Macy to help him find a particular Jelvian who wants to kill him.  Then, after Macy and Narcifer fall in love, they immediately have a crisis of their commitment and the question each other’s motives awfully fast.  The ending, which sets up another book, is also less than fully satisfyingly, but the love story does seem to come to a conclusion.

The erotic scenes are unevenly sprinkled in, with one near the beginning, then a flurry of sex in the middle, and then not much in the final third as the plot winds toward conclusion.  This makes for a choppy feel if it’s the sex scenes in which you are most interested.

The book is fairly long, and much could have been trimmed in editing.  But it is still a fun and interesting story that is mostly free of distracting writing errors and is both engaging and arousing.  It’s certainly well worth the time to read.  This is a great cruise ship or beach read and sneaks in some social commentary that makes you think, as good sci fi should do.  Well done.

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