Book Review

Calamity by Constance Fay

When I get wind of a new sci-fi romance coming out, I’m always determined to give it a try. Sadly, the first person point of view hurt my experience more than it helped and I had to call it quits. What a shame!

Temperance Reed was banished from the affluent Reed Family, and she’s now working on a scouting ship. When her captain runs off with the ship intern (the same captain she’s been having a months-long affair with), Temperance takes control of the ship and crew. Business isn’t what it used to be, so when the powerful Escajeda Family offers her a confidential job, she isn’t in a position to decline. Besides, if all goes well, she and her crew are looking at both a hefty payout and a boost in clientele. There’s just two catches:

  1. One of the Escajeda children, Arcadio, must come along as a security detail.
  2. If anyone finds out about the assignment, their ship will be blown to pieces.

So of course, I’m expecting a dashing space adventure with close quarters eyefucking and lots of danger. Instead, I got a LOT more eyefucking and way less danger than I wanted.

The biggest weakness of this book is the first person POV. I don’t love this POV in general, but for first person POV to work for me, I have to really enjoy being in the head of the protagonist. Unfortunately, Temperance was just too horny. Look, I enjoy a horny book if that’s what I know I’m getting. But we couldn’t go a page or two without Temperance thinking about Arcadio, his sexiness, what he’d look like naked – you get the idea. It was a major distraction from the otherwise very compelling mystery plot and world building.

I also had “not like other girls” vibes from Temperance that undermined the feeling of a character rebelling against a cruel, systemic power structure. There are ruling Families, set up like a pyramid. There are the most powerful Five, then the Ten, and so on. The higher up you are in the pyramid, the more wealth and influence you wield. The Five are often titans of specific industries like weapons, mining, etc. It’s reiterated throughout the book (well, of what I read of it…so about half) how greedy and cutthroat all Families are, even down to the Fifty, as people vie to climb the ladder. They use genetic modifications on their children so that they’re born with the most desirable traits, and then use cosmetic mods once they’re born to give them flawless features.

However, as we learn more about Temperance’s background, we discover she was the daughter of the Reed Family of the Ten. Everything went to shit when her scheming brother took power, but before that…her parents were good people? I say that with skepticism because Temperance has such a jaded view of the Family hierarchy, and her parents seemed to be the only “good ones” in the bunch without any shady or exploitative business deals. It felt a lot like a cop out because it absolves Temperance from having to reckon with her place of privilege in this cruel power structure, even though she would have still been a part of it if not for her banishment.

If you liked Jessie Mihalik’s Polaris Rising, this feels similar to its “princess on the run” heroine and ruling houses power structure. I was truly tempted to stick with it and made it to the halfway point; I typically DNF for much less and within the first fifty pages. Every time I returned to the book, though, it was begrudgingly. At first, it was “maybe this gets better” and soon turned into lots of skimming. I wasn’t enjoying it and only kept picking it back up out of some obligation for a review, and that’s no way to read a book.

There were some really interesting side characters and I enjoyed the way Fay released world building details in little dribs and drabs. The Families and what they’re known for are revealed bit by bit. I found each new detail to be really exciting, so much so that I could have seen myself taking notes as new facts were discovered. I also think I would have loved a dramatis personae in the front matter, similar to what Gideon the Ninth did at the front, with all the houses.

Temperance’s crew was also a lot of fun, though perhaps I liked them more because I wasn’t in their head, reading about how they wanted to lick Arcadio’s nose. My favorite character was Itzel, the ship’s biologist, who is described as “a pacifist assassin monk who parted ways with her death goddess.” It’s never a good sign when all of the side characters are more compelling than the main one. If Itzel is the main character of a future book, I’ll be picking it up, though with tempered expectations.

Even if I had finished Calamity, I believe a majority of my critiques would still stand. Maybe there’s a big twist that reveals Temperance’s parents weren’t as squeaky clean as she remembers and she has to contend with the removal of those rose-colored glasses. Sadly, Temperance’s voice was my biggest hurdle and I didn’t see that changing.

Oh, well! Onto the next!

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Calamity by Constance Faye

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  1. Jill Q. says:

    “we couldn’t go a page or two without Temperance thinking about Arcadio, his sexiness, what he’d look like naked – you get the idea. It was a major distraction from the otherwise very compelling mystery plot and world building.”
    Oh yeah, that’s a big nope from me. It’s also why I can’t do a lot of romantic suspense. We should have a name for that, something like “discordant horniness.”

  2. lisa says:

    That’s disappointing, I was excited for this one. I might still try it, but now my expectations are lower.

  3. Todd says:

    There’s a phrase in Cold Comfort Farm about “he could think of nothing besides sex” which is something that comes up. I’ve seen it in other books, although it’s usually from a man/male POV, and I find it distracts from the actual story.

  4. Star says:

    The first person narrative + constant mental lusting combination is kind of interesting from a craft perspective. Like, I see how it would be easy to get there for an author, especially when the first person is very stream of consciousness, but good authors find another way.

    There’s also something interesting in here vis-a-vis the show/tell distinction that I can’t quite articulate? You don’t want to show the reader that the character is relentlessly horny by having them tell the reader whenever they have a lustful thought, or…something.

    Frivolously: I love the snowflakes on the site background.

  5. Musical Trees says:

    That’s a pity! This was on my “to-read” shelf, but no longer. Thanks for the review.

  6. Kareni says:

    I started this yesterday on the bus while out running errands. I didn’t care for the first chapter, but the later story was sufficiently compelling that I missed my bus stop…oops! I finished the book last night. I don’t believe I’ll reread this, but I will certainly look at the next book in the series.

  7. Queen Celeste says:

    I read this in the last couple of weeks and thought it was ok. The secondary characters were interesting. The first person isn’t my favorite but it can be useful for holding others’ perspectives and motives secret. I thought the author did a nice job of slowly revealing information. I really enjoy scifi romance so will read the next one in the series when it comes out.

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