Enjoyment: ⭐⭐⭐

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Key Descriptors: scifi, noble savage, romance

Premise: The sister of an influential interstellar duke accidentally finds herself on one of the planets her brother is in charge of. She discovers a conspiracy amongst an alien race in addition to finding her own identity independent of her brother.

Review: Although I wanted to like this novel more than I did, the underlying message of “just embrace your gender identity and gender roles!” wasn’t working well for me. The book’s primary theme revolved around the protagonist, Tess, accepting her feminine side and being accepted by the indigenous tribe of Jaran warriors as a woman. She does, admittedly, defy some gender roles by insisting on riding with the tribe hunters. However, she is only able to succeed in this because the men make allowances for her and help her at every step of the way. She has a few other moments as well, involving flouting the normal marriage/relationship dynamic in the tribe. Despite these, I couldn’t help but feel that all of her genuine successes in the book were due to her deciding to accept her place as a woman, since she would be happiest there. She is often extremely passive in decision-making and is strongly influenced by the men around her, who often coddle her or make decisions for her (tricking her into hiding her away from a battle, et cetera).

It also ended up being a bit more of a romance than I anticipated. I’ll be honest in that I’m sometimes a sucker for romance… but the “will she-won’t she?” thing gets kind of old, and it was a major theme throughout the whole book. In the end, her decision in the matter was taken from her, which was another strike against her independence.

I went in with high hopes for Kate Elliot, as it would have been great to have another wonderful woman author to add to my shelf. At the end of the day, this book just fell flat for me with the portrayal of gender. It feels like Elliot was half-heartedly trying to be progressive in many areas, but still ended up robbing the protagonist of her agency in 90% of circumstances. I didn’t dislike the book and felt like I got something out of reading it, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up another Kate Elliot novel in the near future.