Genres: science fiction
Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.
Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.
When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.
A scorched desert planet, politics, rebellion, and star crossed love. What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out. Beyond the Red is a love story disguised as political science fiction, but not a particularly effective one. To make matters worse, there is a love triangle. Let’s take a look at the many ways in which this novel does not work.
The story is told in dual POV. We have Eros (seriously, that’s his name. Why?), the half human, half Sepharon outcast who is captured and enslaved to the Sepharon elite. We also have Kora, the Sepharon queen fighting to hold onto her throne. When Kora and Eros meet, he is taking a beating for being an insubordinate and unruly slave. For reasons that are completely indeterminate, Kora decides this insubordinate stranger would be the ideal personal guard. She knows him barely several minutes, and barely tests his combat skills, before making this decision. This decision makes even less sense when you realize how precarious her situation is politically! Her people already thought she was weak, it made little to no sense to choose an unknown “half blood” for a personal guard.
There is a lot going on in this book that had the potential to be interesting. An entire population of the descendants of would-be human invaders to the planet live out in the desert barely eking out an existence for themselves. The cities of the Safara are lush, beautiful, and full of technological advances. Kora not only has to deal with troublesome human rebels, but her own people actively dislike her and agitate for her removal. There could have been a lot of interest here with courtly politics and intrigue, but there just wasn’t. This is the book’s greatest flaw: politics and worldbuilding are ignored for the sake of “developing” the love story.
Although, perhaps that assessment is wrong, since the “love story” here is one between a ruler and her literal slave. Can we maybe not have slave/master romance? This is a subject that must be dealt with a very sensitive and deft hand. You might be saying, “But, Kim! You like The Winner’s Curse and it’s the same thing!” It’s not, though, because there is a very careful balance and shift of power in that story. Here, Eros is literally Kora’s slave in every sense. He has no power and no choice. Worse, to me, is that both Kora and Eros refer to the enslaved as “servants” perhaps in an attempt to distract the reader from the fact that this is actually a slave/master romance.
As I said, the elements of this story outside of the romance get left by the wayside. Kora is queen, and her people hate her. They’d much prefer her twin brother be the ruler. Yes, sadly, aliens also have hangups on misogyny (homophobia too, which is pretty much just a plot device). Kora maintains that she doesn’t step down because her violent brother would be a much worse ruler than she. No evidence is ever provided for the efficacy of Kora’s reign. She does little to no actual ruling that we can see. She only becomes aware of how people are living in her city when she goes on a rare trek into it. Where are her advisers? Why does she have absolutely no idea what’s going on in her own city? Where are her guards, also? Why is there no head of security to whom Eros might report? Especially after she’s already survived an assassination attempt?
Chapters will begin by letting you know a certain amount of time has passed, so we don’t even really get to the see the “development” of the “love story.” Eros and Kora immediately have the hots for each other, but nothing happens, of course, for quite a while. I think it is supposed to feel like a considerable build up of desire and tension and forbiddenness. But it is ineffective due to the power imbalance and weak writing. Also, of course Kora must marry politically, and so the third side of the triangle enters into the story. Apparently some time does pass, but for the reader it’s only a few pages before Kora is 100% in love with this individual who exhibits no real sense of personality or character. For that matter, Eros and Kora aren’t particularly well developed either. I know nothing of their personal tastes, wants, hopes, and dreams.
The plot is predictable, and the villains are two dimensional and completely see-through. For a book that is ostensibly about political machinations, it is disappointingly transparent. About ⅔ of the way through the story, some plot developments finally happen that might have been interesting if time had been spent developing the characters and the world. Alas, no. And the final third is a rushed and messy attempt to add interest and texture to a flat story. The ending would be a cruel cliffhanger to those who were emotionally invested. Fortunately, that is not me. This sci fi drama, with its weak characters, flimsy plot, and pointless love triangle was, for me, a huge disappointment.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.