Title: When I Fall
Author: Belinda McBride
Cover Artist: P.L. Nunn
Publisher: Loose Id
Buy Link: When I Fall (An Uncommon Whore)
Genre: M/M science fiction romance
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
The sequel to An Uncommon Whore is darker than the first book and lacks the engaging narrator of Helios but is still a very good read.
As king, Helios Dayspring is desperate to secure the future of his people and their new homeworld. His lost memories are slowly returning, bringing with them danger and betrayal.
As the king’s consort, Griffin Hawke wrestles with growing isolation from his lover. When Helios’s secrets begin to come to light, Griffin finds that he barely recognizes him anymore. And Griffin is haunted by his own secrets, nightmares that bring torture and death in his sleep.
Surrounded by enemies and allies, seductive aliens and dangerous operatives, Helios and Griffin find themselves tested to their physical and moral limits. Not knowing who to trust, they can only turn to each other.
Will you be there to catch me when I fall?
When I Fall is the sequel to An Uncommon Whore which I liked a great deal and reviewed here. That previous book had been taken from the first person point of view of Pasha/Helios and I found him to be a very sympathetic narrator. When I Fall has a change in narrative and is taken from the first person viewpoint of Griffin, Helios’ rescuer and later lover. The story picks up a little while after the end of the previous book. Helios is now established king on Neo Domus, ruling over the band of displaced refugees who have found a new home on the planet. Griffin is Helios’ personal guard and consort, a position which he enjoys on the whole but which has its limitations in that Griffin is not privy to many of the state secrets that Helios has to keep. It’s this which is starting to cause a rift between them as the strong and protective Griffin finds himself shut out.
The story is essentially divided into two halves. The first half, set on Neo Domus is full of political wrangling and Helios’ struggles with power over the council. As the story is from Griffin’s point of view, and because he is excluded from some of the things that happen, it was, for me the weakest part of the book. Griffin spends most of the time mooching about feeling sorry for himself because Helios is keeping secrets and no longer needs to rely on Griffin quite so much. Gradually we learn some of these secrets but I couldn’t help but get the impression that this section would have had more dramatic impact if taken from Helios’ point of view. I wanted to know his thoughts and feelings about being in power, and his frustrations and sadness over his deteriorating relations with Griffin. As it is we only get everything second hand when Helios chooses to tell Griffin. The rest of the time we are subject to Griffin’s sulking insecurity about his place in Helios’ life.
The second half of the story takes place on another planet as Helios make an important diplomatic visit to secure allies for Neo Domus. Here the action and tension of the book is ramped up as Helios and Griffin are under constant threat. This allowed for less of the self-absorption from Griffin and more positive action. We are introduced to a few new species and whilst there was still some political wrangling and arguments, this was broken up by some exciting action scenes. It was in this half where Griffin and Helios begin to resolve some of their differences, narrowing the gap that had begun to widen in their relationship. It was interesting to see how the power dynamics shifted and also how the secrets between them were used to strengthen rather than weaken the relationship.
Another aspect of the book which I found very interesting was the way in which it dealt with the trauma of the past war on the Arashan people. Some readers may not like some of the more brutal descriptions of what happened when the planet was invaded by the Landaun, but I thought it added a realistic note to the lives of these displaced people who are still recovering from the terrible things that happened to them. We get more insight into Griffin and his family, especially his wife, as a result of this dwelling on the past and some of the parts where we see the effect on Griffin’s children in particular were poignant.
Despite my misgivings about the first half of the book the writing is still beautifully done. The descriptions of Neo Domus were vivid and brought the place to life in my mind. The author also has a poetic way of writing at times which lifted this story from the ordinary. In particular I liked this passage where Griffin reflects on his and Helios’ differing personalities:
Helios sat down next to me, sharing the silence like the gift it was. The snow came down heavier; tree limbs bent under its weight, until the springy branches finally bowed enough to rid themselves of the burden, then sprang up to collect it again. That was Helios. He bent under his troubles, then finally let them slip away. I was more like the giant hardwoods of Arash; they would split and crack under the burden of the snow. It was a lesson I would take to heart. I wanted to be more like him.
It was passages like this and the descriptions of the setting which added to my enjoyment of this book.
Overall, I very much liked When I Fall, perhaps not as much as the first book in terms of character, but it was certainly a book with more depth and richness of setting than An Uncommon Whore. For those who have read the first book this is a must-read, but I do suggest that you read An Uncommon Whore first to really understand some of the background to this sequel.