I have been blogging for just a little over six years now, including my book reviews. In that time, I have had contact with the authors only two or three times. It was a bit of a shock, if only because… well, I suppose I had never quite realized before just how small the world can be, that the author of something I reviewed might actually see my review. As vast as the internet is, it is a smaller place, so to speak, than I realized.
This time, however, I am somewhat expecting it to happen because I’ve already interacted with the author, one Monalisa Foster, albeit only on Facebook. So, for the first time, I find myself naturally contemplating what someone I sort-of-know and admire might think of my review of her work. I am Indiana Jones’ father, knowing that this probably happens to other reviewers all the time, but it is a strange, new, and somewhat tense experience for me.
But, even knowing that, I just had to pick up Ravages of Honor and try it out.
I’m glad I did.
…well, “glad” in the sense that I am impatiently awaiting the sequel to pick up the story from where it left off, but I think that qualifies. 😉
Self-described on Amazon as a “fun, sexy, dynastic space opera with riveting characters,” Foster’s Ravages of Honor tells the story of Syteria and Darien and the saga surrounding their love. Said saga involves the brutal histories of both of their peoples, the intrigues of paranoid, power-hungry tyrants, and, above all, the emergence of the individual even under the tremendous weight of all manner of pressures from society. There is certainly a primal level of attraction between them – which, in all honesty, seemed slightly overdone on Darien’s part, but it was still astoundingly refreshing to see a more masculine, proactive approach to sexual attraction, at last – but what really sold me on them was how much more attracted they became to each other as they got to know one other as kindred souls.
The plot surrounding these two sets the stage for what won’t simply be another coupling, but one on which the hinges of history may well turn, and which would make them and their love story a legend told for centuries afterward. To explain that… well…
Darien is a donai, descended from a breed of bio-engineered super soldiers which humanity created as a means to destroy their enemies, and thus preserve their own species. A great deal went wrong with that, especially when the creators tried to discard their creation after its purpose was served (they really didn’t think that through). Thus, the humans became subject to the donai, and the donai have not been particularly humane with their humans. However, the donai weren’t designed to breed as endlessly as humans can, so they’ve been in a state of decline for quite awhile, despite the power of their larger, stronger, faster bodies, their intelligence, their enhanced senses, and their aggressive, predatory instincts. They are in such a state, in fact, that finding a population with which the donai could easily breed with great success would be a substantial game-changer in the political intrigues of their galaxy-spanning empire. Especially when the first hint of said population happens, by twist of fate, to fall into the hands (and bed) of Darien, the heir of one of the donai‘s most prominent noble houses, one which treats humans far more humanely, and which their emperor already fears may soon challenge him.
Thus, why a power-hungry, paranoid, human-hating emperor sits up and takes notice of Syteria, in a way that he is rabidly eager to erase her and the people of her planet, a planet whose population could save the donai as a species (which would empower someone other than the emperor), from the universe.
As for Syteria herself, she is from a completely unknown planet called Kappa. Her people are regularly preyed upon by those of a neighboring planet, Rho. The Rhoans subscribe to themselves as the epitome of civilization, trusting no man (only women) with power, forbidding all carnal pleasure, and never partaking in violence themselves. No, they kidnap Kappan girls, training and mutilating them until they become the soldiers they send to kidnap more Kappan girls.
I will say this: Foster definitely knows how to craft villains who I will absolutely love to see utterly annihilated. Many storytellers have created monstrous villains, but not so many, I notice, go into such detail of what is really so terrible about them. This, I think, comes from her life experience. She understands what tyranny is, and what it means to be free.
So, we have a mysterious beauty who is whisked by fate – and, it turns out, by the emperor’s experiments with wormholes – away from her masters and towards the arms of a young, powerful noble. The ramifications of their unity are potent, far-reaching, numerous, and diverse. Said union does not come so easily as it might, as there are a number of personal and social issues to overcome, but the two of them are practically made for each other, each possessing courage, wits, and a strength of will and honor that is born from everything they have previously faced.
Some people like Edward and Bella, some like Dany and Khal Drogo, or Dany and Jon Snow, and some like the Joker and Harley Quinn (however bizarre and unsettling each of these couples is). Me? I have to say, I really like Syteria and Darien. They do not use or abuse each other. They strengthen, rather than diminish, each other. They are not equally strong in physical terms, but they have equally strong minds and spirits. They are a magnificent couple, one of the best, in my opinion, that I have yet come across. And for a couple whose legacy may alter the course of an empire that spans the stars, the potency of their mutual passion is only right.
Oh, and while the story revolves around them, it is not nearly limited to them. Darien is well-established with followers, friends, and enemies, and through Syteria’s eyes we learn a great deal about these people and their culture. They are advanced, with sciences and technologies that we can scarcely dream of (but which are fairly thoroughly explained), but with customs that hail back to primitive roots. They are aggressive and violent, but not savages. They adhere to strict codes of honor, and those who violate such codes are despicable beyond the bounds of words. Humble professionals of medicine can sometimes be not nearly so humble, especially when they’ve already achieved the impossible once before and are on the emperor’s radar for it. Those in power, one notices, tend to be either honorable or not, to an extreme. But, then, all of that tends to be true of all of us, doesn’t it?
Ravages of Honor does what all the really good stories do: discuss the nature of humanity through the characters’ eyes. Through the experiences of the cast, through their past and through their choices, we see humanity itself on display. Sadistic, bloodthirsty tyrants will always have some form of rhetoric to justify the atrocities they commit. Men are meant to stand tall and proud in their strengths, and women are meant to be their equals, which truly strong men will be attracted to, but they are not meant to be identical. No matter how far we advance, we have lessons to learn from the past, and from the struggle of man against nature. The individual is strong, and a society can only be as strong as all the individuals together can be. All of us matter, and playing god with lives, with the very nature of life and the nature of living beings, is sure to end badly, if only because we are not gods.
It is, in short, a very entertaining, thought-provoking book.
If I had any complaints about Ravage of Honor, it would be this: the story feels like it barely gets started before it’s done. I mean, the threat, the danger that the villains pose barely gets five minutes – albeit a terribly tragic five minutes – of fruition at the climax, and there is so much still to do afterward! There’s a despot to depose, an entire way of life transform, an experimental technology to master, more than one people to deliver from tyranny, retribution to take for horrific crimes… but the book ends pretty much in the same moment that the proverbial line is drawn in the sand.
…thus, my impatient wait for the next book! 😉
It does need to be said, in fair warning, this is not a book for children. It does not cut to black when Syteria and Darien get together, we shall say. That is something I am not always comfortable with, personally, but it struck an intricate balance with how explicit it was, and wasn’t.
All things considered, I found Ravages of Honor to be an enjoyable, intriguing read, with characters I could appreciate.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.