Title: The Balance of Silence
Author: S. Reesa Herberth & Michelle Moore
Buy Link: Buy Link The Balance of Silence
Genre: M/M Science Fiction, Space
Length: Novella (95 pdf pages)
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A well written and sweet story that I felt, ultimately, needed a bit more conflict.
Welcome to the jungle—where the found are lost and the lost are redeemed.
Riv is a man adrift, hoping that running supplies for ReliefCorp will restore his faith in mankind—and in himself. Deep in the war-torn Maltana rainforest, he stumbles upon a local bar that suits his mood: good food, bad attitude. The entertainment, though, is unexpected. A skilled piano player who avoids eye contact, flinches when anyone approaches…and warns Riv of an ambush by tapping out the planetary anthem for Riv’s homeworld of Karibee.
The least Riv can do for the mute piano man, “Ducks”, is take him to the nearest spaceport for help. On their harrowing journey to escape Maltana, Riv makes a horrifying discovery. Ducks endured torture that scarred his mind as well as his body. Still, before he leaves the man safely in a treatment facility, Riv manages to earn what little trust Ducks has to give.
Months later they reconnect, and while it’s clear their instant attraction was no fluke, there’s still a piece missing. Ducks’ voice. To help him find it again, Riv will have to expose the painful past that tore a hole in his own life. And hope that together, their ragged edges will fit together to form a whole.
Riv is a lost man. It seems like everyone he’s ever fallen in love with has moved on from him, he’s a pacifist who has been forced to kill a man, and he hates his name on top of everything else (his name is Riversong — I’d hate my name too). The crew on the ship he works on has been his family for years now, but since the incident where he ended up killing that man, he can’t find his way back to himself. He believes in balance — cosmic balance, karmic balance, and balance within himself. No matter what the circumstances were around the killing, he needs to right that balance. The only thing he can think of to do that, especially within himself, is to make a difference in someone’s life. So, against everyone else’s wishes, he volunteers for ReliefCorp in the most dangerous place they currently reside, the planet of Maltana, which is in the middle of revolution. There, his job is to ferry medical supplies and food to isolated areas, often having to spend weeks and months traversing very dangerous areas of the jungle. He is all alone in a place where the people are highly distrustful and often outright malicious to any outsider. While on a run, he stops at an isolated bar and inn for a meal and hopefully a place to rest after having to spend weeks sleeping in his cramped hopper. He is cautious, seeing the hate in the other patron’s eyes, as he eats his meal and listens to the beautiful piano music played by a waif of a man who has haunted eyes and hair that sicks up in all different directions. He tries to talk to the piano man, but the man doesn’t respond. The bartender tells him that this man (whom Riv has been calling Ducks in his head because of his hair) just walked in a few weeks ago and sat down at the piano, having never said a word in all the time he’s been there. Then, as the bartender hands him his drink, Ducks starts to play the anthem of Karibee, Riv’s home planet, to warn him that his drink is drugged. Thus starts Riv’s flight to get off-planet and take Ducks with him, grateful for his assistance and worried about this man who seems so broken and whom needs healing and safety.
This story really drew me in, because I’ve loved science fiction ever since I got hooked on the Ender series in high school. This book was on its way to carving another place in my heart. Then, halfway through it lost its steam and started to fall flat. It kept my interest all the way through and ended up being a great story, but there were a few difficulties that really bothered me and threw me out of the story — namely, several important events that happened off-page and were only told later in the story. I suppose this happened because our narrator Riv (the POV is third person close), is out of commission part of the time and our two main characters are separated for about half of the story on different planets. Also, I didn’t feel like our characters got to spend enough on page time together for us to see their connection growing (which happens very slowly because Ducks has always been straight with only a passing interest in men and because he is healing from severe physical and emotional trauma). There are also a few issues explored in the story, such as Riv’s emotional abuse by his father during his childhood, which are touched upon and then never answered. This brings me to a huge pet peeve of mine (which is personal because I’m sure there are some others who don’t mind this): we don’t find out until, literally, the very last moment in the story what happened to make Riv kill another man. This is an integral part of the story, because it is Riv’s whole drive in going to Maltana, in saving Ducks, and in explaining his whole personality. Therefore, I felt like it was impossible to really understand our narrator until it was too late. I also think that we’re misled a bit by the blurb for the book, which says “To help him find [his voice] again, Riv will have to expose the painful past that tore a hole in his own life. And hope that together, their ragged edges will fit together to form a whole.” This doesn’t happen if Riv only tells what happened after it is no longer imperative to Duck’s treatment. All of these things frustrated me because the components of the story were there, they just needed to be rearranged to understand the story and the characters better. In essence, the story had potential, but needed some polishing.
On the other hand, I absolutely adored the characters — specifically Riv, Ducks, and Del, Riv’s friend who has an empathic healing ability. Ducks will worm his way into your heart and not let go. His road to healing is depicted very well. However, the best part of the whole novella was the depiction of his character in silence. We wait until the very end to hear him speak, yet his emotions and thoughts seem the loudest of all the characters. His body language and facial emotions are written so well that it is as if you can hear him like any other character. Writing Ducks this way must have forced the authors to really think of how a character speaks to others and portrays themselves to the reader, because the prose was fresh and alive with all different kinds of sensory information. Sight, smell, touch, and taste brought Ducks to life.
I would recommend this story based on the stipulation that the reader understands that there is very little action in the story. While they are on the planet of Maltana, there is some action, but the other 80% of the story really takes place with Riv and Ducks talking back and forth from ship to planet with a video feed, and a short time that Riv visits Ducks at his treatment facility. It is certainly a well written story and the characters were wonderful and came alive for me. I would definitely like to see them in a sequel and would be open to reading other works by these authors. On a side note, the story is character driven with little focus on world-building, therefore I would recommend this to all readers, not just those who like science fiction.