Title: Diplomatic Relations (Sci-Regency #4)
Author: J. L. Langley
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: February 19, 2019
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Romance
Page Count: 288 Pages
Reviewed by: ColinJ
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Opposites don’t just attract… they sizzle.
A lusty special forces soldier who lives by his own set of rules, Dalton Fairfax decided long ago to stop wishing for his father’s love, and he found his calling. Now that he’s back home and between assignments, he finds himself at loose ends. When the opportunity arises to play bodyguard and help out his country, Dalton jumps at the chance. Not only does it keep him busy, but it just so happens that his charge is the man he saw on leave last month and hasn’t been able to get out of his head.
Heir to a dukedom and a conservative politician, Blaise Thompson strives to prove himself worthy of carrying on the family legacy as the next IN Councilman. However, his closest competitor keeps getting in the way and taking credit for Blaise’s ideas. Maintaining his stellar reputation isn’t easy to do while keeping his outrageous younger brother in line and foiling his rival’s personal attacks. He has no time for a guard and even less time for romance.
When a priceless antique goes missing, Blaise and Dalton discover that Regelence has larger problems than just IN plots. Now the only way to stop a scandal that threatens both of them is to compromise, and they are forced to confront the risk of losing everything… even each other.
This story builds in previous ones in the series. With a growing cast of characters and a consolidation of locations, this should have been an opportunity to enrich plot themes particularly the underlying threats from outside. Certainly, the author does make some attempts to make this more relevant and the activities of characters are at times focussed on this. However, there remains very little about this series that is science fiction and the reader could easily forget that this is not a period drama. There is much here that is quite predictable, there is little tension in much of the early part of the book. As such the focus is on character development and social interaction. The characters are interesting if somewhat frustrating. Marred by social niceties, behaviour is constrained and in one of the lead characters becomes a major hurdle to his development. He is like a stubborn flower bud that resists all attempts to blossom and then opens overnight. Scenes that could easily be developed into rich and tense themes are deflated quickly. Even characters that could act as negative counterbalances are underplayed and offer little more than minor frustrations. They become the sort of characters that you can predict how they are going to behave and just have to await how they are going to be avoided this time.
Having said this, towards the end of the book, one such character acts in a way that increases the tension of the story to one that very nearly grips the reader. That this is resolved in a convoluted and somewhat disappointingly easy way says more about the author’s use of social conventions to provide ways around and through this plotline. The book would have been much stronger had this occurred earlier and more made of its overall impact. Similarly, the underlying plot theme is more relevant in the latter parts of the story and so there is a feeling that significantly more is happening and a clear hope that this will be carried through into later storylines.
As noted the core relationship is hampered by social convention as well as the stubborn naivety of one of the characters. Sadly this is not handled in any effective way to increase tension, but rather there is a subtle teasing of attraction throughout that has a sense of slow momentum. There are of course interludes of doubt and misdirection but there is no real sense of any challenge to pair ultimately coming together. When passion does eventually arrive it is handled with sufficient clarity and heat, but there is no sense in which the reluctant character has any doubts about what is done or with whom. It is more like an adventure. Similarly, the other character is presented as a reformed individual with a rebellious and naughty history. It is somewhat of a surprise then to learn he is as young as he is given his worldly-wise experience and confidence.
The pace is sedate for much of the early part of the book and the context and behaviour is similar to other stories in the series, as such there is little to drive the book forward. It is a pleasant read with nothing to grip the reader beyond the development of the relationship plotline. However, the book is worth the wait as there is much more going on later.
As the story winds to a close, problems are finessed away to allow for a clear and neat happy ending. This is another area where more could have been done to provide a denouement that is both memorable and holds the reader on to the next book. It is clear that the wider plotline will become a larger feature and this is to be welcomed as the social dance of characters can only be played so many times. There is also a suggestion that the next book might actually be based on a different planet. One can only hope.