Reviewed by Katinka C.
TITLE: Storms and Stars
AUTHOR: Neena Jaydon
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: 247 pages
BLURB: It’s lonely at the top for Commander Villam Elding, who has always ranked loyalty to the empire and career ambition over romance. He finds it easier to love ideas than people; without military life, he’s lost. Even so, it’s his close relationship with Kardiell, a popular officer, that tears him from his life. Those with competing ambitions try to take Villam hostage to leverage Kardiell’s soft spot for him. In the struggle, Villam crashes the small spacecraft he’s riding. All hands perish except he and Luke, his kidnapper.
Luke Sicinik travels the galaxy performing dirty missions for money to send home. Born on a desert colony abandoned by the empire, he has no love for imperial soldiers. He spent his childhood in a monastery which taught the evils of anything impractical or sentimental. Yet when he crawls from the destroyed spacecraft, his first instinct is compassionate: he drags Villam’s unconscious body free of the wreckage.
Stranded together on a wild planet, Villam and Luke know that survival means cooperation. A truce becomes trust, and trust turns to passion, as they struggle to find a new life together — just the two of them against an entire world
Boy, did I ever have a difficult time making up my mind. Which seems fitting enough in this case, because Storms and Stars seems to suffer from a similar problem. There’s no point in beating around the bush: this book was a bit of a challenge for me. At the same time, there was something about this science fiction meets Robinson Crusoe story that managed to capture me enough to want to check out this author’s other work. But I’ll get to the good and the bad in a second.
Firstly, the story! Villam is a loyal servant of the empire. He works as a commander on one of the many star ships in its fleet. Then one day, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a transfer vehicle that has been taken over by rebellions who have somehow managed to penetrate the empire’s defenses. Villam senses the danger and launches an attack, but can’t avoid getting shot with a tranquilizer gun. And the last thing you want, is ending up unconscious and injured in a craft of which you have just taken out the pilot. The space vessel spins out of control in the blackness and is then sucked into the gravitational pull of an uninhabited planet, where it crashes. Much, much later, Villam wakes up and finds that only one of the aggressors has survived: the Sigliuk monk Luke. This provides him with a shiny new mission: making the young man pay.
If any of you have seen the film Cast Away, you know that this is probably not the smartest move when you’re stranded on an uncolonized planet with only one other human being. Before you know it, you start talking to a volleyball. And who to have sex with indeed? Luckily, Villam follows a similar train of thought. Meaning that we get to read about two sworn enemies who are suddenly dependent on each other for survival. I know I was rubbing my hands in sweet anticipation, realizing that starting points seldom get much better than this!
He noticed that Luke was watching him. The young man’s expression had returned to its default neutral state. He blinked slowly, his green eyes measuring something in Villam. It was a boyish face with a mature expression, built of handsomely curved cheekbones and a rounded jaw line, accented by eyebrows that moved in a firm line to a sharp turn downwards. It was the only face he would see for the rest of his life. (…) Villam scratched at his chin, blinking. “You’re not going to tell me that no one ever gets physically intimate on Siglidunn.”
“To have children! Anything else is just frivolous — wasteful.” The last word was spoken like a curse.
“Luke,” Villam said patiently, “it’s only the two of us. There will be no children.”
But although you could consider this to be the main storyline of Storms and Stars and, quite frankly, the only truly interesting one, the author also has inserted numerous chapters that cover the spaceship humdrum. I was optimistic at first, thinking this parallel storyline would provide me with a good dose of political intrigue and the necessary background to Jaydon’s universe. When I found that these chapters didn’t offer anything in terms of worldbuilding, nifty scifi ideas or excitement, but instead introduced a ton of irrelevant POV’s for side characters with funky names (Kardiell, Fulgur, Urma, Dorges, Hije, Shpate, and the list goes on…) I began to despair. So I might as well admit what I did: skim these chapters and stick to the stranded men’s adventures instead. This turned out the be a good bet, when I discovered that this storyline wasn’t even part of an ingenious, spectacular climax. Especially since Storms and Stars is very slow paced and of considerable length, I wonder why no one thought; “Hey, all those chapters may not be working in the story’s favor!” Of course, it’s a possibility that the author felt that dropping two men on an inhabited planet wouldn’t offer enough of a bite and spectacle in space to her readers?
Something else I struggled with were the peculiar style choices. The story is written in the third person perspective and focuses on one POV, but still allows the thoughts of the other characters as well. The focus switches to these other POV’s all the time, in the same paragraph even. On top of that, you will also get big chunks of text in italics from the first person perspective; to make sure that the thoughts of the MC’s are constantly on display. Are you still following? Because I sort of…didn’t? Let’s just say it isn’t the most clear and crisp style I have come across.
I quite enjoyed the romance though! The slow burning love was drawn out well. The progression Villam and Luke made in trying to overcome their differences was believable. Along with that the survival trope was interesting. Would they manage to survive winter? Would they be forever stuck on the little green planet? In general, I was taken with Jaydon’s writing style, that was evocative at times. She took her time to introduce us to the strange planet, and incorporated the men’s surroundings nicely in their lives.
Luke examined the moons, then knit his brows and glanced at Villam. He was bleached by the silvery light, his eyes left deeply green in contrast. Villam reached out with one hand to clasp him between neck and shoulder. Smiling, he stepped in closer and ran his other hand down Luke’s warm, soft, lightly stubbled cheek. The moon prodded him not to linger, and he didn’t, dipping in to touch his mouth to Luke’s. Less pure urges than love of the cosmos made him grip Luke’s narrow waist, tug him close, and press apart his lips with his own.
This is apparently Jaydon’s debut novel. For her future books I wish her an editor who isn’t afraid to tell her to ‘kill her darlings’ and opt for one style choice for the sake of an enjoyable reading experience. But despite the book’s flaws, I’m impressed with her writing in general. Very promising.
Katinka C. is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.
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