Book Review: Roark by Jacqueline Rhoades

The place and time

United States of America, on Earth, in the near future. The area is called Sector Three.

The suspension of disbelief

Earth gets invaded by Not-Very-Near-Human aliens. Chaos and destruction ensue. Other Near-Human aliens (if I trust the cover art and description they are about as different as most early Star Trek aliens are from human) show up to fight them and are trying to live on earth with the humans. Most of the tech we know has been shut down or doesn’t work, but the aliens are higher tech than we are.

The quick summary

Mira, an ex-teacher, meets Roark, the new alien commander of the city, and they quite like each other and begin a courtship. Meanwhile Mira’s teenage brother is running with the wrong crowd and she’s caring for and supporting orphans she doesn’t have any legal rights to while someone is out there orphan-napping. Roark has problems of his own: he’s inherited a basket case of a command with lack of supplies and manpower, insubordinate officers, possible embezzlement, the list goes on. They are both carrying time-bomb secrets. How do they get together and stay together? I’ll let you read.

My squees

Our protagonist Mira. She’s everything I’d want in a BFF or big sister. She reminds me of several of my favorite teachers who if faced with danger would have protected us (the students) at any cost to themselves. She has vulnerabilities and flaws that resonated with me. Her missteps make sense. I like how she admits she is attracted to alpha males but that has not worked out well for her, so she tries prudence. Once she’s committed to you in whatever context, she has your back. She will fight for you, she will stand by you, and I cheered her on throughout the novel.

The other characters are well-drawn. At first I was a little worried by the preponderance of male aliens, but then we meet the delightful Dr. Ahnyis who I also want to be my friend. There’s also grumpy Sargeant Mohawk who is introduced as an antagonistic but everyone grows to count on, confusing Dr. Mason Mason, and earnest Petrark. I wanted to bash Mira’s brother’s head in, but I also wanted to do that to my younger brother when he was a teenager. Roark is a sincere fellow who can be quite overbearing but shuts up when Mira’s not done talking. He’s upset when he has reason to be but is willing to hear all the evidence on something before charging off and doing something reckless. As proven in a memorable game of Cards Against Humanity, active listening will always get you laid.

The romantic relationship proceeds in a realistic, relatable fashion. Roark figures out what he wants rather quickly, but his feelings deepen over time so it doesn’t just seem like infatuation. Mira approaches it more slowly and with caution: she’s intrigued, then attracted, then begins to care. She has concerns about the poor girl getting with the rich commander who wants to give her things and can control her fate, as it often creates power issues and friction, just like in resource-skewed relationships in our present. Her worries ring true, and she has to have some encouragement to get involved with Roark. Once they figure out that they both care, love follows quickly. No Great Misunderstandings. The love (and sex) scenes flowed with the rest of the story and paced it well.

My grumbles

There are some editing mistakes that kicked me out of the book and broke my reading trance. There’s a stray sentence fragment, one misspelled word that jumped out at me because it was during a moment of tension, and two paragraphs that had sentences that didn’t seem to follow each other. There is also the confusing part where Ahnyis tells Mira the friendly aliens are all dudes and Mira doesn’t say ‘uh but you identify as female’ like I did. This was explained later to Mira, but at the time I furrowed my brow. There’s also a remark in which Roark references his father having knowledge that I thought he didn’t due to the conversation before and after. Nothing that would change anything around it, but I grumble about getting jarred out of the story with a ‘wait what’.

The friendly aliens (the Godan) apart from slight anatomical differences don’t seem very alien and they catch on to human slang rather quickly. I wasn’t sure how believable I found that, and am still undecided. The middle of the book was tight and cohesive, but the end felt a little less together, more meandering with scenes that felt shortened. I would have liked scenes or some more time with the supporting cast to highlight how they’d changed and developed, as I had grown to care about them.

Read if you

  • like women who give as good as they get and can take a stand
  • sympathize with the plight of the oldest sister who has to be the rock of the family
  • are into Viking or Viking-type men
  • enjoy a large huggable cast of supporting characters

Skip if you

  • don’t want to read about aliens or conversely, only want Real Weirdie aliens with tentacles
  • hate reading about troublesome teenagers and why would sympathetic characters like them
  • avoid books with any swear words (there are military men under stress, and shellshocked humans under stress, guess what happens?)
  • think that there is excessive discrimination against moderate Hive Bug aliens already and cannot support perpetuation of this extreme prejudice

Final thoughts and disclosure

I won this book in a raffle, but it was on my to read/buy list anyway. I volunteered to do a review because I want to promote the interests of SFR and indie authors. I’ve never read Ms. Rhoades before, and this is her first entry into SFR with the Women of Earth series. I’ll reread this one on a rainy afternoon this winter sipping hot chocolate…or perhaps sooner. I enjoyed myself, I enjoyed the characters (Roark has won runner-up in an SFR poll), and I’m buying the next book when it comes out.

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Other resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes and NobleKobo



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