Book Review

No Words Alone by Autumn Dawn - A Guest Review by Carrie S

B-

Title: No Words Alone
Author: Autumn Dawn
Publication Info: Smashwords 2012
ISBN: 9781466015463
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

No Words Alone - a woman and man with the woman leaning against the man's back with a backdrop of the sun? Something really red and hot that's making them sweaty. I heard via word of mouth that No Words Alone is a very good science fiction romance, so of course I had to check it out.  I had some very ambivalent feelings about this book and yet I was completely swept away by the story and the atmosphere.

Xera is a translator.  She is human, and serves on a human spacecraft that crashes after engaging in a skirmish with an alien craft.  Both ships are stranded on a hostile planet and the humans and the aliens (Scorpios) have to make an alliance to survive.  Xera is the only woman in both crews and when her captain threatens to rape her, the Scorpio leader, Ryven, takes her under his protection.  Seeing as how the two races are at war, “under his protection” essentially means she is taken prisoner, brought to Ryven's home planet, and told that she will be marrying him.  Xera is drawn to the Scorpio culture and to Ryven, but also resents her lack of choices, misses her family, and struggles to communicate with the strange man who is about to become her husband.

The author, Autumn Dawn, does a lot of things very, very well.  The writing is smooth and evocative.  Here's a particularly lovely quote:

“Xera understood fear and worry.  It started with a small thought and grew, circled around and came back stronger, like the first wisp of smoke in a still, quiet house.  It had to be stamped out while it was still a whisper, before it gained strength and flashed over”.

Dawn is especially good at description, and boy howdy does she describe some pretty things.  When Xera arrives on Scorpio she is dirty, injured, traumatized, and hungry.  Let me tell you, if you are ever in need of emotional and physical first aid, Scorpio is the place to get it.  In addition to the emergency pampering, there are pages of description of houses and gardens and markets and meals and clothes.  I believe the word I'm looking for is “sumptuous”.  I'm not sure I want to read that kind of thing every day, but if you are looking for pure glorious escapism this is your book.

The book isn't a laugh riot, but there are many touches of humor that I enjoyed, my favorite being when, during a space battle, Xera tells a companion, “Hey!  Our toilet is offline!  Man, but that would be a problem if we planned to live very long”. 

I also liked reading about Xera as a professional.  She is not just a translator but also a cultural ambassador (both officially and unofficially).   She is non-judgmental of Ryven's culture and asks direct but polite questions whenever a Big Misunderstanding looms.  The only problem is that when a third culture shows up, (The Khun'tat), all of that cultural relativism goes out the window and the Khun'tat are pure villains with “monstrous appetites”.  It's like The Lion King, when the Circle of Life includes everyone except hyenas.   I'm not saying that I want to hang out with the Khun'tat, but after going to so much trouble to create at least moderately multilayered alien characters among the Scorpio, it's jarring to see these vampire bugs show up who sneer a lot.

Here's what's really weird about the book – everything involving sexual politics.  Xera has served on the same ship for years, yet she accepts that after a very short time, like, a day, of being stranded on another planet, her entire crew will be out to rape her – and she's almost right.  Something must have happened on Earth earlier in the series that I missed, because Xera tells Ryven that she will not have sex before marriage because on Earth that would make her “a whore”.  Ryven courts Xera with great delicacy but he never backs off on his order that she will marry him.  If you don't believe in Babies Ever After, for heaven's sake do not read this book  – it has a particularly egregious use of BEA including a heroine who gets pregnant because she can't remember the date of her last birth control shot, and who is informed by her husband of the pregnancy. 

Never has a heroine seemed so strong and admirable to me while wrapped in a package of complete doormattery.  I admire Xera's intelligence (except regarding birth control), her relationships with other women, her determination to build a full life for herself including friendships and a meaningful career, and her diplomatic skills.  How this is all taking place in what appears to be an old school conservative's dream is beyond me.  I could understand if Xera herself had some conservative ideas about sex, but the whore thing and the constant rape or harassment threat is presented as a cultural norm, plus Xera's convenient stupidity is completely out of character.

So…how to I grade this one?  Impartially, the weird conservative sexual politics are somewhat lazily written but overall the book's writing is strong.  My personal preferences are for more feminist stuff and yet I never did hurl my Nook across the room.  I was totally swept up in the story.  Even when banging my head against the wall (metaphorically) I kept reading. 

So I'm going with a B- with a strong caveat that many people might say, “The hell with the food and the interior decorating – this is infuriating!”  This grade is a good example of a time when technique might trump content – and I'm still waffling over it.  I am planning to read more from Dawn, if nothing else so I can figure out if she ever explains why suddenly a woman from Earth who has pre-marital sex is a whore.  Wish me luck.  Incidentally, there's no ISBN number listed on this review because my copy, an eBook, doesn't have one, but was availble free from Smashwords.  No Words Alone is also available in paperback form on Amazon and as a eBook from Amazon (but, alas, not for free).


This book is available from Amazon, BN, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    jules says:

    When I read No Words Alone, I enjoyed the book but felt that I had missed something.  As if it was the second or third book in a series and not the first.  The second (published) book in the series, When Sparks Fly, is more of a prequel than a sequel as all of the action occurs before the events in No Words Alone.  The story, about Xera’s older sister, takes place on Polaris and provides more of an explanation about the culture’s sexual politics. I don’t know if it’s a better explanation but there is more of one.  Also, the “incident” that sent Xera into space takes place in When Sparks Fly which provides a (better?) explanation of some of the events in No Words Alone.

    No Words Alone and When Sparks Fly were originally published by Dorchester so you may be able to find find print copies at libraries and usbs.  When Sparks Fly is also free on Smashwords.

  2. 2

    Huh, you can’t turn down free. HEading over to smashwords now

  3. 3
    Wifeshee says:

    Thanks for the link to Smaswords, just downloaded both books onto my Kindle for free!!

  4. 4
    Rei Hab says:

    Oh, Autumn Dawn! Two of her books were Kindle freebies a couple of years ago – The Charmer and The Golden Bell. I read The Charmer first, and then The Golden Bell out of sheer trainwreck syndrome, because The Charmer featured a highly memorable scene in which the hero punishes the heroine by tying her to a tree and making out with her until she stops struggling. (It’s okay, though, because she liked it.) There was a subplot which involved the heroine’s best friend being kidnapped and slowly Stockholm Syndrome-d into an arranged marriage. Golden Bell was slightly better, as I recall, but almost more boring for being less hilariously bad.

    As you may be able to tell, I’m not such a fan – I considered submitting a Book Rant for The Charmer because it disgusted me so much – but if the books are free I might download them for the hilarious rage of it all. The books are very readable, but, in the words of Coupling, have the sexual politics of a Viking attack.

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    I write most of my reviews a month or more in advance of publication, and lemme tell you, months later I am still waffling over this letter grade.  Glad to hear some mysteries may be cleared up in “When Sparks Fly”.  Now that much time has passed since I read the book the impression I’m left with is a combination of “Wow, that was luxurious” (the food, the clothes, etc) and “Well, that was offensive and strange” (the gender and sexual stuff).

  6. 6
    Virginia E says:

    This book is free at Smashwords because Dorchester has failed to return the rights to the two books that they published and they continue to sell these titles. Autumn Dawn made the decision to give them away rather than allow Dorchester to profit without paying royalties.

    She also has the third book in the series, Solar Flare, for sale at Smashwords. This book was never published by Dorchester.

  7. 7
    cleo says:

    I’m still hung up on the author’s name.  Autumn Dawn seems like a stripper name, not a romance author name.  Maybe she used the wrong name generator?

  8. 8
    Overquoted ... says:

    This was my first official wallbanger. I’d read some 70’s romance books in my teens that were DNF, but No Words Alone was the first to prompt me to throw it into a wall. I wrote a review on Amazon, but it was mostly how I found the sexual politics absolutely infuriating (not to mention insulting towards men). The sci-fi was just a description of pretty things without any of the ‘science’ side of sci-fi. You know, an explanation, however small. I also didn’t see much strength in the heroine given she was a trained soldier. She spent a big chunk of the first half of the book moping.

    And prior to the marriage, the heroine is falling in love with the hero but considers him a monster and rapist. I find it extremely difficult to figure out how you can fall in love with a guy you have such a low opinion of. Maybe I should go read some old Catherine Coulter books, eh?

    The weird thing is, I enjoyed AD’s books when she was with New Concepts Publishing somewhere back in 2003-2005.

  9. 9
    Becca says:

    I love SF and I love SF/R, but I guess I know too much biology to believe in cross-species sex.  The pheromones and signaling would just be too different – and cross-species fertility is another issue I just can’t wrap my head around. Or are these explained in some way?

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    There is a lot of subtle and not subtle coding in The Little Mermaid, alas. And yet I have so many fond memories of it, and of the sound track. Sometimes I do have to wince my way through things, knowing their flaws.

  11. 11
    FD says:

    The repellent sexual politics is a recurrent theme in Autumn Dawn’s books. As are self esteem and weight issues. Particular warning for Ride The Stars,  seriously triggery for eating disorders. I also think she could use a good editor. However,  I have like half a dozen titles by her, because as you noted, she has a way with a phrase and a strong minded,  competent heroine.
    Just don’t, whatever you do go on a glom because the recurring themes will piss you off.

  12. 12
    Amy Raby says:

    Sounds like an anomaly for its genre. Generally I find science fiction romances to have strong heroines and lack the “every male character wants to rape the heroine” sort of sexual politics found in some romances.

  13. 13
    nonamey says:

    I definitely had a similar ambivalent response to No Words Alone. I got is a freebie from Barnes & Noble on my nook, and so had zero expectations. Starting from that low standard, I was was very impressed at how decent of a book it was, I definitely enjoyed the characters’ emotional connection. I mean, I probably would have paid money for this!
    But so far, I haven’t found anything else as enjoyable in the author’s other works. The flaws that can be overlooked in “No Words Alone”, are just too glaring in the other titles I’ve tried.

  14. 14
    Nikki says:

    I have to say I read this and a couple of others from this author because she had an interesting and fresh voice.  The world/universe sounded interesting but it just didn’t go anywhere.  I think she had one series that is faux fantasy historical which was very interesting.  Anyway, the underlying issue is that she heavily writes her conservatism into the books in a way that ulls you away form otherwise interesting and competent characters.  I remember she got a publishing deal and the book she published was soo much worse than what she had with one of the online publishers.  I remember at one point someone said that she was really young but you would think she had grown more by now.  How sad her work had potential but I had to cut if off when my urge to destroy my kindle was too strong.

  15. 15
    Jessi Gage says:

    I too found Xera to be an odd combination of intuitively accepting and naiive. For me, the combination intrigued me, and I kept reading. I kept seeing things about Xera that I admired, like her skill at diplomacy and her sense of duty to the role she had to assume to keep the peace with the Scorpio. But I would have liked a dose of femenism, too.

    The world-building. Amazing. Sumptuous is a very good description for it, CarrieS. I read another book by Autumn Dawn, not When Sparks Fly, but didn’t keep reading her. I might pick her up again, but not right now.

    One think I’ve read since that had all the fabulous world building of No Words Alone but a MUCH more femenist-friendly feel was TIP OF THE SPEAR by Marie Harte. Set in a post-apocalyptic old-west with bounty hunters and whores and literal Amazon women, it was touching and muy calinete at the same time.

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