Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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What Surprised Me About CYBOT AWAKENED by Melisse Aires

Kick-ass heroines in science fiction romance are pretty awesome, and Buddha knows I’d love to see the trend continue, so color me confounded when an author throws me for a loop by creating an endearing heroine who is about as kick-ass as an oyster.

When I began reading Melisse Aires’ novella CYBOT AWAKENED, I expected to be bedazzled by Qy, the cyborg hero of the story. Yes, he’s swell enough as cyborgs go, but it was the heroine, Sabralia, that wore the pants in this tale—at least she did for me.

This revelation was especially surprising given that Sabralia is what I can only describe as a futuristic country bumpkin—and I mean that as a compliment.

But first, here’s the story premise so we’re on the same page:

Sabralia lives a lonely but luxurious life in Emperor Sirn’s Harem, her only companion is her obedient servant, Qy, a cybot. Her life has largely been controlled by others, but when Sirn demands his Harem pleasure his Commanding Officers at a victory celebration, Sabralia makes a daring plan to hide to avoid rape by Sirn's men.

The Palace is ambushed and her cybot gets her off world. The impossible has happened−Qy the gentle cybot becomes the man he once was, the warrior Kaistril. Pursued for valuable information, Sabralia is thrust into dangerous, unfamiliar situations where she must stand up to the challenges, or lose the man she loves.

So what did I mean when I compared Sabralia to a country bumpkin? Without giving too much away, one reason is because she’s the queen of a planet with rich agricultural resources, a planet she helps protect by marrying Emperor Sirn. Second, she’s quite young and was whisked away to the emperor’s harem before she could finish her education. Third, while not sexually inexperienced, she is so relentlessly innocent and naïve that I couldn’t help but like her. This was attributable in part to Sabralia being aware of how utterly useless she was—and felt—as the story progressed. I mean, the woman had zero life skills. To me, this would be a pretty daunting predicament in a space-faring age. Heck, I’m not even sure at the beginning of the story that she knew how to pour herself a glass of water.

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but Sabralia demonstrated enough insight and desire to change that I couldn’t help but root for her. Another reason she worked for me was that she is a woman of curves. The danger for her character was that she seemed like a hen being fattened for some rich lord’s dinner table. Her plumpness grew organically from the story instead of solely for titillation purposes (and I must say, she is titillating!). Speaking of which, this novella is much closer to a sensual /mainstream heat level, regardless of what publisher Red Rose calls it. So chalk this one up to another instance of marketing mayhem, because if you’re seeking an intense erotic SFR romance, CYBOT AWAKENED isn’t it (but it is another reason word of mouth is so crucial for this subgenre).

Finally, what also made this story work for me was the scope. We get a glimpse of the larger story universe, but Ms. Aires kept the focus on a single slice of Sabralia’s life, arguably the most interesting part since that’s when she meets Qy. As I read the story, my only hope was for Sabralia to nab her Happily Ever After because frankly I worried about her survival otherwise.

CYBOT AWAKENED is a story where either you can buy the premise or you can’t, and power to you either way. Somehow, at least for me, Melisse Aires managed to reinvent the trope of the “innocent-yet-courageous” heroine. The story speaks to the variety that can be found in SFR, which is a good thing.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a hero or heroine? Are there any “innocent-yet-courageous” SFR heroines you can recommend?

Joyfully yours,