Summary Review: An ambitious science fiction story that ultimately fails due to the immature writing and multiple basic mistakes.
Some bonds can’t be broken by time. Or space. Or death.
When Captain Julian Gaspar captures an enemy spacecraft, he takes aboard a sapphire-eyed stranger who captures his heart. The powerful attraction that draws Julian to the mysterious Ellis is instant, undeniable, and throws Julian’s well-ordered life into chaos.
The heat they generate burns as brightly and naturally as the stars—until Ellis is stolen away by a merciless pirate who trades in lives. In a heartbeat, Ellis is gone, leaving Julian broken and haunted by his last, angry words to his lover.
After five years of searching, Julian is finally reunited with Ellis, only to find him dying, imprisoned by a strange, ring-bound enchantment that is slowly draining his soul. Removing the ring will mean his immediate death unless Julian can find a source of powerful, ancient magic. Older than the stars. Older than time…
I was so looking forward to reading this book. I specifically asked to be allowed to review it, because I found the blurb so intriguing. Unfortunately despite creating what could have been an intense and emotionally wrenching plot, Ms Price just wasn’t able to live up to the promise of that blurb. Her writing completely let her down.
First of all, a brief run-down of story events. The novella begins in the middle of the story, when after years of vain searching Julian’s kidnapped lover Ellis stumbles back into his life, almost wasted away and with only weeks to live. The book then goes back to the beginning, showing how they met – Ellis was stowed away in the cargo hold of an enemy ship and when Julian boarded the ship he ‘persuaded’ Julian to give Ellis safe passage by way of Ellis giving Julian a blowjob. This scene made me cringe rather, since even though Ellis appears enthusiastic, any sexual activity performed under the threat of being put out of an airlock takes on tones of non-con for me, and there was no warning for that on this title. We then follow them through their relationship up to the point where Ellis was stolen. Following that the author leaps back to the present day and Julian’s desperate efforts to keep his lover alive. This sounds a little confusing but actually the structure was one of the book’s stronger points, creating a sense of mystery and drama which might otherwise have been lacking with such a long separation between the lovers.
The story is told exclusively through the POV of Julian, and this was one of the main problems for me. I found it impossible to connect emotionally with Julian. The author writes about his actions from within his POV, without ever really managing to convey any inner life. He felt one-dimensional to me. If you imagine Keanu Reeves’ acting applied to a written character, you may get a sense of what I mean. This impacted deeply on the way I perceived his relationship with Ellis.
Ellis is another character who is hard to get a grip on. At first he’s painted as an ultra-up-for-it twink, happy to drop to his knees for the first guy he sees. Then, quite suddenly, he becomes deeply emotionally attached to Julian, to the point that he’s willing to risk his life for him. We’re given reasons for this later on – along with a revelation about Ellis’ identity which I don’t want to spoil – but I just wasn’t convinced by them. In effect, this was the author *telling* us that the connection between the characters is epic and spiritual, without really showing it.
There were also many strange errors which were constantly jarring me out of the story. Julian wants to close the shutters on his window when he and Ellis have sex – even though they’re in space and all that’s outside is the stars. An alien who we’re told has no mouth is later said to smile. Julian – supposedly a tough and competent captain – pulls out a laser torch even though he is covered in flammable liquid, setting his engine room on fire and nearly killing himself. We’re told that, in order to increase speed, the ship’s heating power has been redirected to the engine and shown the crew running around wearing blankets, when in fact in the vacuum of space the crew would freeze to death without heat. The prostate is at one point described as a ‘bundle of muscle’. It’s possible that there is an explanation for some of this – but if the author meant that only half the ship’s heating power had been directed to the engine, or that the alien was smiling with his eyes, those lines needed to be re-written to make that clear. One or two errors like this wouldn’t have troubled me too much, but the story was riddled with them.
On top of this, the author’s prose occasionally stopped making sense entirely. For example, we’re told that the captain takes new recruits to meet his chief engineer, who is an alien with a rather dramatic appearance, to test their merit:
“One man had fainted at the sight of his high ridges of cartilage and the sharp upturn of his nose.”
Why on earth would those features make anyone faint?
I’m sorry that I can’t be more positive about this story, because I did feel at times that there might have been the gleaming of something better in there. The way that the legend of the Star Keeper was told was lyrical and moving, and as I’ve mentioned, I think the basic plot was sound. Unfortunately this novella felt rather like a very rough first draft which needed editing on a fundamental level to improve it. Perhaps further books from Ms Price will allow her to develop her skills – I hope so. However, I’m afraid that I cannot recommend SoulBond to readers.