Incursion is an odd book – brilliant in some ways, off-putting in others. This is a hard sci-fi, m/m romance featuring a hero with a disability. Here’s your drinking game for today: take a shot every time I complain that this book is too short. Do not do this while operating heavy machinery.
Incursion is about an ex-soldier, Kyle Juenger, who has lost the use of both his legs in an interstellar war. He uses prosthesis, but they are awkward and painful because he can’t afford good medical treatment. Kyle is asked by the local bigwigs to track down a shape-shifting alien spy. The money would allow Kyle to get top quality cyber ware to replace the prosthesis.
Kyle figures that the spy must be on a ship that is just about to go off-planet and he manages to get a ride on the ship. He finds himself drawn to the pilot, Grimm, who encourages him to think of himself as more than someone who can’t use their legs, and who flirts with him non-stop. But Kyle is in the middle of this whole “find the shape shifter mission”, and not only is he uncertain of what he’ll do when his mission is complete, but he’s also not sure who the shape-shifter is. Not Grimm, right? RIGHT?
This is one of those novellas that desperately needs to be a full-length novel (drink). It’s great until just before then end, when all of a sudden it’s – the end, ka-boom, when it feels like we are just getting to the middle of the story. Basically Kyle and Grimm are just barely maybe kind of starting to have a relationship, and they have the sex, and then all of a sudden they are a couple and they fly off into the sunset (it’s a romance, the fact that they fly off together is not a spoiler. OK, technically, it is, but durrr they will fall in love and be happy, because romance.)
As the first half of a full-length novel, Incursion would be brilliant (sip). Kyle’s problems with his paralysis seem painful (physically and emotionally) and realistic. He hasn’t had time to make any kind of peace with the paralysis. His finances are in shambles. He’s a gritty character who is struggling to build some kind of life from nothing. Grimm is less compelling because we don’t learn enough about him. He’s a mystery right up until he’s not, and by then the book is over (drink).
I loved that Grimm insisted that Kyle, who has begun to think of himself as no more than a shell, is still a powerful, sexy person. And I loved it that Grimm encourages Kyle to take care of the body that he has – to maintain the prothetic legs and care for the skin that gets chafed. There was a good, nuturing quality to those interactions that I found moving. I also liked the supporting characters but, again, we barely get to see them before the book is over. Why, why could there not be 200 more pages to flesh out this story in the way it deserves? (chug)
The world building is actually very solid. I admired the writing technique of starting the book by having Kyle, who is still not used to his prosthetic legs and who has almost no money, have to get from one place to another. Following him on his trip across town allows us to get a feel for the economics of the world, the way military and private security works, and the emotional and physical state of the hero. By the time he actually makes it to the office to which he’s supposed to report we are pretty well oriented to the world and sympathetic to Kyle. The world feels physical and grounded – you need money, you get tired, people shove each other in the crowded train. It also is clearly futuristic, with spaceports, and complex (and terrifying, and lethal) security in the fancy office buildings. That first passage was some of the best sci-fi I’ve read in a long time. Part of my strong reaction to the negative qualities of the book is dissapointment, because the beginning is so good and promised such high quality writing.
As far as the romance goes, it builds up just fine but just when a typical romance book would really take off this book ends (glug, glug, glug). Grimm and Kyle have sex. OK, I get that this is significant, but I have no reason to think they’ll be together forever. Also, what is the deal with dominance in m/m romance? I’ve only read a handful of m/m romances but every one I’ve read so far has this thing where one character is the pursuer, and is all “I will make you desire me and then I will make you have fabulous orgasms, because I CAN and you will come to accept that because I will MAKE you”. It’s like because they are both men they have this testosterone problem where they have to joust for dominance before they decide to be lovers (and often after they decide to be lovers). Am I getting this overwhelming pattern because of my small sample size? Is this how men often interact in real same sex relationships? Because it seems exhausting. Enlighten me, more experienced readers. My ignorance is embarrassing me.
SPOILERS (WITH TWO PART RANT): Ultimately Grimm turns out to be a shape shifter (well, duh) and he injects Kyle with shape shifter stuff that turns Kyle into a shape shifter and allows him to walk. Kyle hates shifters more than anything. Grimm does this without Kyle’s knowledge or consent. Prepare for a two-part rant:
Part One: I hate it, HATE it, when a character has an HEA and we know it’s a HEA because the disability magically vanishes. It’s insulting. I hurt every single freaking day and of course I’d be thrilled to feel better, but guess what? I already have an HEA. I love my husband and my family and I have a good life. My physical problems do not prevent me from experiencing a rich and vibrant life. I do not appreciate an HEA that suggests that as long as a person is disabled, they cannot be happy.
Part Two: WTF?!? Grimm injects Kyle with an alien serum to turn Kyle into something Kyle hates, without Kyle’s knowledge or permission – and Kyle is supposed to THANK him. And he DOES. It’s OK, because it was for Kyle’s OWN GOOD. Kyle is angry for like, five minutes but then the book is about to end so he starts a page furious and ends it excited about his new life and full of affection for Grimm. Perhaps this emotional journey would have been more plausible if the book wasn’t so short (chugchugchug).
If I were really drinking, by now this review would read like this: fgdfgfdzdxvcbcvbcv…..THUD (that’s my head, of course). This book started so well, and so many things about it were good, but it doesn’t feel like a complete book. As far as I can tell, there’s no sequel (I thought maybe this was part of a series, which would explain a lot, but I can’t find a sequel). So I’m giving this book a C-, with the ‘C’ being for the excellent handling of science fiction settings and themes, and the realistic view of someone struggling with a recent serious injury, and the ‘minus’ for the fact that the book took a weird and infuriating controlling turn and ended too abruptly (hung-over moan of anguish).
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