Title & buy link: Aliens, Smith and Jones
Author: Blaine D Arden
Cover Artist: Nathie
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: M/M contemporary paranormal
Length: Novel (199 pages)
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Men in Black meets Torchwood in a mystery caper that didn’t quite deliver on the romance angle.
Connor Smith works for Primrose, an organization tasked with monitoring and tracking aliens and alien technology. It’s a job that doesn’t know the meaning of “nine-to-five”. It also doesn’t leave much room for a social life, a complication that Connor hasn’t minded, until now. At the prodding of his best friend, Connor reluctantly puts himself back in the dating pool, even though it means lying about his remarkable life.
Elsewhere, Noah Jones has led a remarkable life of his own. Stranded on Earth in 1648, Noah was forced to transform himself permanently into human form to survive. He soon learned that in doing so, he’d become effectively immortal, aging only at a glacial pace. Alone, with no way to contact his people or return home, Noah becomes a silent observer of human civilization — always in the world, but never of the world. Then, hundreds of years later, he sees a face in a crowd and instantly feels a connection that he thought he’d never feel again. But he’s too late: Connor’s already taken.
Destiny is not without a sense of humor, though, and the two men are pulled inexorably closer, snared by the same web of dangers and conspiracies. Worse, Primrose is now aware of Noah, and they aren’t ones to leave an alien unrestrained. So while Connor struggles to understand the strange pull he feels toward Noah, forces without as well as within are working against them to keep them apart.
Connor Smith is an agent for Primrose UK, a secret government-sanctioned agency dedicated to investigating, retrieving, covering up and quarantining alien visitors to Earth. While occasionally the aliens can be hostile, most of the time the field operations involve rounding up creatures who are lost and confused and away from their spaceships. As well as dealing with the most recent alien sightings, Connor’s boss, Lieutenant Tallis, is concerned with the theft of alien artefacts. Tallis is worried about the security implications as well as for the safety of the stolen aliens.
Connor’s best friend and colleague, Isa, is desperate to set him up on a blind date. Connor isn’t keen because Isa has terrible taste in men. The morning before his date, Connor feels psychically attacked – it’s as if something is stinging him, and then he’s bombarded with sensations. He sees a Primrose doctor but doesn’t make an official report because none of the alien scanning devices show that he was attacked by a known species.
Fortunately things look up for Connor when he meets his date, Jason, a hot antiques dealer who seems really into him. While they’re at the pub, Connor feels the strange psychic connection again and tries to find out where it’s coming from. He thinks his weird behaviour might have put Jason off, but instead Jason asks to see him again, and Connor tries to forget about his peculiar stalker.
Noah Jones is a Rei, an alien trapped on Earth more than two hundred years ago. His species are a type of energy creature that can change shape to blend in with the inhabitants of other worlds. Noah is a recorder, a Rei that visits other planets and literally absorbs everything he can about the flora, fauna and cultures he finds there. Unfortunately, Noah got stuck on Earth and his only way of surviving was to become human, a process that drained him of almost all his energy. While there are no other Rei on Earth for him to connect with and share energy, Noah has made a connection to a human before – a young man called Dafydd who became Noah’s lover centuries ago. But Dafydd died, and Noah has been alone ever since – until now.
Noah’s connection to Connor is incredibly strong, but things are complicated by Connor’s growing relationship with Jason. Primrose agents capture Noah and question him, and Connor realises that Noah means him no harm. Slowly they test out their psychic bond, and while Noah knows that the connection means they’re soul mates, Connor is confused because he’s with Jason. Sure, Jason can be a bit mysterious and is out of the country a lot of the time, but in all other respects he’s the perfect boyfriend.
Meanwhile, the missing alien artefacts are traced back to a shadowy group called Westland. As Primrose try to discover more details, Noah is kidnapped, tortured, and put up for auction by representatives of Westland, who buy and sell aliens and alien technology for their own nefarious purposes. Through their psychic bond, Connor feels Noah’s agony and tries desperately to help. At the same time, he decides to end things with Jason – just as Jason dumps him. Something very strange is going on, and now Connor and his team must uncover the truth and rescue Noah before it’s too late.
If you like the idea behind the Men in Black films and the TV series Torchwood, you’ll have fun with this book. Aliens, Smith and Jones also has a good title if you’re of a certain age and remember a certain TV show, and to a certain extent I wish the book had lived up to the flippancy of its title and its nod to MiB. Beneath the fun there’s a more serious storyline, though, so overall it reminded me more of Torchwood.
This was quite a patchy read for me – there were plenty of things I liked, but also areas that were less polished. I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters except (ironically) Noah, who isn’t technically human. Possibly this was a deliberate decision by the author but it felt a bit uneven and I wanted more of a feeling for Connor.
I think part of the issue was the style, which was very narrative and at times tended towards too much information. Not actual infodumps, but just that the things we were being told were irrelevant to the story and didn’t add anything in terms of emotions, advancing the romance or propelling the action forwards. As an example, I found there were simply too many named characters. A lot of the Primrose staff ended up being walk-on parts that really didn’t need to be named, and I found myself wondering if this or that person was going to be important later on and then they weren’t mentioned again. Just my opinion, but I thought quite a few things – characters as well as events – could have been abbreviated or cut out without harming the central storylines.
I liked the aliens that appeared in the book, from the bumbling Noren at the start right through to the cute-sounding Narf at the end. The rather dour way that Primrose operate made me smile, especially their habit of being completely literal with artefacts – for example, a maroon sphere is described as a maroon sphere without any regard to what it might actually do or be. There are moments of dry humour like this throughout the book.
Noah was my favourite character. He really shone from the page, and I enjoyed reading his backstory. The author did a great job with making the Rei intriguing and different yet also compassionate and sympathetic. I particularly liked the way Noah became human and what he did with all his recordings. The nature and use of memories was a strong theme in the book and Noah worked well as a symbol as well as a character.
The two plots are straightforward and twine together nicely. Though the baddies are obvious, the author is careful to show us how and why Connor was kept in the dark about certain things for so long. They’re believable reasons, and so Connor comes across as someone who’s been deceived rather than TSTL, which can sometimes be a problem with mysteries. Here I felt sorry for him and was pleased when he got a resolution.
I just wish there’d been more to the romance. Jason’s involvement with Connor is central to the plot and also serves to keep Connor and Noah apart for about half the book. I liked that it emphasised the psychic ‘soul mate’ connection rather than the physical, sexual connection as shown by Connor and Jason’s relationship, but by the time Jason was out of the picture and Connor and Noah could be together, the story was moving towards the end, so the romance kind of fell by the wayside.
So, overall a fun read that didn’t quite push all my buttons, but was engaging and solid nonetheless. If you enjoy thinky action sci fi, Aliens, Smith and Jones will be for you.