A guest review by Leslie
In a nutshell: A pitch perfect space opera that hit all the right notes for me.
From pickpocket and con artist to little brother and trusted comrade is a tough transition, but Taro is making it. His new sister, former Marine Eve Marcori, promised his dead mother she’d “look after” him. To her that means family, home—her interstellar freighter—and a solid future. In four years she has trained Taro extensively; the next step is college. Taro would rather be shot, but he never forgets his debt to Eve, so he means to honor her plans or die in the attempt. When Eve rescues former joy-boy and current layabout Rafe Ballard, death seems the likely outcome. Rafe is so apparently useless that Eve calls him ‘the baggage’ and appoints Taro his custodian. Irritated into disobedience by his carefree charge, Taro tries to get rid of Rafe. Instead he gets them both kidnapped by the jealous husband Rafe was fleeing. Though they are off-planet before Taro can act, his training may be enough to bring them safely through—but now he has bigger problems. Forced into partnership—and freedom—with Rafe, Taro begins to see him differently. Kind, funny, and caring, Rafe is everything Taro never knew he wanted. And all he can’t have. Eve’s plans leave no room for a playboy boyfriend who can never measure up, and Taro can’t let her down. Caught between the sister he’d die for and the man he’s beginning to live for, Taro decides it’s time to start making his own plans. And if the new skills aren’t enough, he’ll give the old ones a try.
Science fiction type stories are a hard sell for me, but occasionally I find one that pushes all the right buttons. Such was the case with Knight Errant, a terrific story that pulled me in completely. Lots of action, lots of fun dialog and two very appealing main characters made this a total winner.
Kentaro Hibiki—Taro—is living on the Pendragon’s Dream with Captain Eve Macori and her extended adopted family. It seems that Eve picks up stray people, usually children, from all over the universe. She gives them a home and provides loving, structured training and discipline until the time comes when they are ready to go forth in the world. Such is the case with Taro. He’s been on the Dream for four years and while he appreciates all that Eve and her partner, Ben Alexander, have done for him, he’s starting to get a little antsy. Eve’s plan is for him to go to college but he’s not so sure that’s what he wants to do. Taro has also realized that he’s gay and he has no idea how on earth he’s going to break that news to Eve—especially since it’s her lover that he’s started to feel an attraction for.
When the story opens, Eve sends Taro off to a coffee shop to pick up some “baggage” which turns out to be Rafe Ballard, “a curly-headed brunette dressed like a theatrical pirate in white and blue striped pants and a baggy, billowy blue shirt.” Rafe has a fabulous smile and twinkling green-gold eyes. Taro is both repelled and attracted to the man and thus the fight for his heart begins.
Through a series of mishaps, Taro and Rafe end up on an almost-deserted planet together, with no way to get home and nothing to do but survive until they get rescued. This gives the perfect opportunity for long, slow, simmering emotions between them. Rafe has been trained to be a pleasure-slave so he knows the sensual arts, including massage, which is just what Taro needs after a day hunting fuzzy creatures on a poisonous planet. While Taro tries to resist his feelings, when another incident causes his adrenaline level to shoot sky-high, he throws caution to the wind and seduces Rafe. Or does Rafe seduce Taro? Either way, they very quickly realize the place they like best is in each other’s arms.
Once they get back to the Dream, they need to sort out their relationship in the context of the people around them—and there are many. This is complicated by the fact that no one knew Taro was gay—no one knew Taro was anything—and Rafe, as a joy-boy, has a history, one that hits pretty close to home.
What made this story a lot of fun for me was that there was a great deal of character growth and exploration of feelings, which I like, but it was all mixed in with plenty of action and adventure. Things don’t slow down for a second in this book, which kept me turning the pages compulsively. It’s a long book but I read it twice in three days—in other words, I couldn’t put it down.
A couple of quibbles and then the caveats/spoilers. Turtleduck Press is a collective of independent authors so this book was just a step away from being self-published. No problem with that, for me, but a little more care could have been taken with some of the editing. There were a few typos and missing apostrophes. More annoying was that a lot of the slang sounded very British at the beginning but then slipped into pure American about halfway through. “Idjit” turned into “idiot” for example. Consistency on this point would have been nice.
And now, here come the spoilers and caveats. There are a few points that might be turn-offs for some readers and in the spirit of full disclosure I’ll reveal them here.
First, Taro is young—he turns 16 during the story. I should point out that there is actually no on-page sex but it is very clearly implied what is going on. My favorite line: Taro says “Fuck you,” to Rafe, who calmly replies, “That comes later.” Rafe is 20. If underage sex is an issue for you, you’ve been warned.
Second, Rafe is pansexual and has been trained as a pleasure slave, which means he has a sexual history with men and women (and I assume aliens, but he doesn’t get into that). While there is no on-page M/F sex, Rafe does talk about his attraction to women. On top of that, he’s a great big flirt. I liked this because it made him a fun and interesting character but I realize that some M/M readers don’t want women anywhere in the universe and they are floating around in this story.
Third, following on this, Rafe has had a past relationship with Eve. This happened five years prior when he was 15 and she was 22. It was not part of his pleasure-slave job, it was a consensual relationship between the two of them (the situation was complicated but well explained). Eve is now Taro’s guardian and even though they are not blood-related, it may just be too inter-familial for some readers. Plus the fact that Rafe was underage at the time. Again, this didn’t bother me one whit but I know people have different standards for what they’ll accept.
Last, once Taro and Rafe get together, Taro is very quickly committed to it being forever. It’s sort of a variation on insta-love, that is, insta-FOREVER-love. Some people might find this completely unrealistic, particularly given Taro’s age. Eve even calls him on it and tells him he has “the first love stupids.” I liked it—this is a romance, after all—but I am putting this out there for those who hate insta-love relationships.
So, if you can see your way past all these things, as I did, then you are in for a great story. And, at 99 cents for the Kindle edition, this is definitely the bargain of the century—or universe, as it were.