Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review - Captured by Julia Rachel Barrett

Short review: Mari is captured by aliens who think humans are animals, but her captor thinks she's interesting. She falls in love with him and then there's lots of sex. Lots and lots of sex.

Abducted from Earth
A captor she entices
And then there is love

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: I am pretty sure that I am not the target audience for this book. This fact, however, did not prevent me from enjoying it quite a bit. An erotic science fiction romance in which a human woman is abducted by an alien slave trader and then seduces him into removing her from the auction block and is in turn seduced by him into falling in love.

The book opens up in media res, with Mari, the female protagonist of the story, waking up to find herself in a cage on board a ship full of other abducted human women on her way to parts unknown. After some confusion, she sees her captors: cruel yellow eyed aliens who regard her and all other humans as nothing more than beasts, not even fit for clothing. It is in these early sequences establishing the initial relationship between the feisty redheaded Mari and her captor Ekkatt that are probably the most critical and the most dangerous for the story. Unless Barrett is able to define the extreme distance between the two characters, then their later journey towards a loving relationship would be less effective. On the other hand, the danger is if Ekkatt's point of view is not explained well, then he can become a character too abhorrent for the love story to be accepted by the reader. After all, Ekkatt's job is to travel to alien planets, abduct their women, and then profit from selling them to be used as sex slaves or to be killed for meat. Fortunately, Barrett is able to walk this fine line, and although Ekkatt at times seems just a little too able to empathize with his quarry to be in his profession, the initial animosity Mari displays towards him makes up for it.

Mari strikes up her relationship with Ekkatt purely out of a sense of self-preservation. Having woken up unexpectedly while all of the other abducted women are still unconscious, Meri finagles her way into being allowed to stay awake for the duration of the trip, insinuating herself into Ekkatt's frame of reference out of a sense of self preservation. In short, Mari has to try to cajole Ekkatt into seeing her as more than simply a beast in order to survive. An interesting point about the story is that even though Mari is the protagonist and viewpoint character, the character with the most interesting personal arc is Ekkatt as he struggles with a lifetime of prejudices and is forced to confront the horror of what he has done. While Mari does everything she does driven initially by a desire to not be made into a dinner entree - making her character motivation crystal clear, Ekkatt's motivations are a little more opaque, attracted seemingly to her feisty nature and the dragon tattoo on her back, but he does eventually see her as a thinking being, and then eventually as someone to be respected, and finally a companion.

Given that I described the book as an erotic science fiction romance, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Mari and Ekkatt eventually become lovers. The book contains plenty of intense interspecies sex as Mari and Ekkatt consummate their relationship in a variety of steamy scenes. Leaving aside the moderate absurdity that an alien would be sexually compatible with a human at all, the one element that really demonstrates (to me at least) that I am not really the target audience for this book is the somewhat idealized nature of Ekkatt as a sexual partner. He is tall, lean, well-muscled, and well-endowed. He is also, gentle, caring, and, in the heat of passion, animalistic, but only in a way that is erotically arousing for Mari. Although Mari is described as an attractive fit and sexy woman with an independent streak, she is ordinary enough in some ways that a female reader could put herself in Mari's place and enjoy the fantasy almost from a first-person perspective. Although this comparison may seem juvenile to some, Mari's attraction to Ekkatt seems to me to be drawn from the same sort of impulse that makes Jean Grey lust after Wolverine in the X-Man series, although in this story there is no counterbalancing "good guy" Scott Summers for her to be committed to. Instead, the choice given to Mari is essentially between the Wolverine stand-in Ekkatt and Pana, who seems much more like Sabretooth. In short, her choice is between the "bad boy" and the even worse boy, and isn't really a choice at all.

As Mari is essentially an escaped slave, there is conflict in the book, and this is the element of the book that I wish had been developed more. Through the book there are essentially only five characters, one of which is the villain in the piece, who is dealt with in an almost perfunctory manner. And this brings me to my only real criticisms of the book: I wanted there to be more of it.  As an erotic science fiction romance, the book focuses primarily on the relationship between Mari and Ekkatt, and of course the sexual encounters between the two, but I wanted to see more of Ekkatt's world, and more time devoted to the hunt for and pursuit of Mari by the slave traders. As it is, the book feels too short, and the life changing decision that Ekkatt makes to avoid the religiously driven prejudices of his home world seems to come too quickly and easily. In the end, although the development of Ekkatt and Mari's relationship was more or less complete, I wanted to story to go on to explore the new life they had made for themselves. As a general rule of thumb, wishing that a book was two to three times as long as it actually is is actually a good sign, and this book is no exception. When an author leaves you wanting more story, as Barrett does with this book, that is a testament to the quality of the writing.

Captured is an excellent science fiction romance that is only marred by the fact that it should have had a more extensive story. With a pair of interesting and ultimately sympathetic characters, a well-written romance, lots of intense sexual encounters, and a fairly interesting (although too cursorily fleshed out for my testes) fictional world, this book is a very enjoyable read. As with most truly good books, this one left me wanting more, and my only complaints are that there wasn't enough time spent exploring the world, and that the story ended too soon. But if you want some science fiction mixed with eroticism, this is definitely a book to read.

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  1. As a feisty redhead who likes the occasional bite, I believe I am the target audience for this book and I agree wholeheartedly with this review. The characters were real, the romance was hot, and the sci-fi backdrop was enough for fans but not so intrusive that non-sci-fi fans wouldn't still enjoy the book. And I agree it was much too short.