One of the neat things about genres like science fiction romance is that the author gets to use the science fiction part of the blend to “play” with or comment on some of the aspects of the human experience from a slightly different perspective.
Undercover Alliance by Lilly Cain lives up to its claim of being erotic science fiction romance. And it does a very good job of it, too!
But the alien race in her Confederacy Treaty series, the Inarrii, are not merely empathic, they literally require sexual healing as a means of processing tension and staying sane. Their bodies, although very similar to humans. are covering in l’inar, lines of nerve endings that convey and express pleasure, pain, stress and every emotion.
Undercover Alliance is the story of an Inarrii woman, a warrior named Sarina. Her l’inar were permanently damaged in battle, but she survived. However, with her l’inar severed, everyone believes that she will eventually lose her sanity, because she cannot achieve the full mind-contact and sexual release that is needed for an Inarrii to de-stress and remain sane.
Sarina thinks she’d be fine if she could just keep working. She’s a trained warrior. She thinks if she keeps doing her job, eventually a battle will solve the problem for her. The enemy won’t mind if she’s damaged goods.
But her own people are afraid that she’ll go berserk and don’t trust her in a combat company. So they assign her as a bodyguard to a low-status human during the final stages of the Human-Confederacy Alliance treaty negotiations — while they wait for her to crack.
The only problem is that her supposedly low-status human charge isn’t. He’s an undercover Spaceforce Security agent sent to make sure that the treaty does get signed. There are both human terrorists and alien Raveners out to break the alliance before it begins.
And John Norton absolutely hates pretending to be a bureaucrat. But not quite as much as he hates having to even let it look like he’s letting someone else handle his security. He’s used to working strictly alone. No partners.
It’s only in the silence of his own mind that he can think about how much he really wants to be in charge of everything…including his strong and beautiful bodyguard. It astonishes, and delights him, when she reads his thoughts enough to decide that maybe they can try being in charge of each other. Or take turns. Or all of the above.
Then someone tries to blow up their section of the ship. And only their section of the ship. Along with John’s cover story. While they are fleeing from marauders and fighting for their lives, John and Sarina discover that the moments between life and death are a great time to reach past the broken places for something wonderful.
They’re just not sure if they can hang on once the shooting stops.
Undercover Alliance reveals a bit more of the world behind the story, and I enjoy seeing how they get where they are. Unfortunately, not everyone on Earth would welcome an alliance. There would be terrorists, damn it. Whatever we do, someone is always against it.
The Raveners remind me a bit of the Reavers from Firefly. I don’t think they’re that bad, but the name is close. There are always the good guys and the bad guys. And politics. Undercover Alliance has the political story in the background, making sure the treaty gets signed.
We also see that the Inarrii are just different from humans. Some of those differences are physical, not just the l’inar, but also that they are stronger, see better in low light, have better hearing. But also their society works differently. And it should. They aren’t human.
I hope there are more books in this universe. I want to see what happens next. Now that the treaty is signed, do the Raveners come in force?