Relentless, by Lauren Dane

5 May

Relentless, by Lauren Dane

The second book set in Ms Dane’s Federation universe, Relentless is an excellent romance novel, focusing on building the relationship between its main characters, Roman, head of the House Lyons, and Abby Haws, unranked barrister.

Published by Berkley’s Heat imprint, Relentless is considered an erotic romance, with explicit and graphic sexual content; therefore, all minors-as well as adults who have issues with strong language or sexuality-should avoid the review and the novel.

Without further ado, the back cover blurb:

In this erotic universe, passion knows no rank…

Since the first settlers came through the portals from Earth, fifteen Families have held the rule of the Federation Universes in their hands. There’s never been a better time to throw out the old and usher in a new order, giving voice to the unranked. Abbie Haws has spent her life battling the system. A fighter by nature, she’s always been too busy and too driven to pay much attention to finding love. But when she’s granted an audience with Roman Lyons, the head of House Lyons-a man who stands for everything she hates-her instant attraction catches Abbie off guard…

It’s common knowledge that the Known Universe revolves around the world Ravena-and that Ravena revolves around Roman Lyons, bred to lead since birth. Roman dreads this meeting with a defiant-if stunning-rabble-rouser. But sometimes headstrong personalities in the conference room make for hot-and-heavy, guilty trysts in private…

Now, Abbie will show Roman the parts of her world he wouldn’t otherwise get to see. And he’ll give her a glimpse of the Families’ age-old traditions and unleash a sexuality he’s never given rein to before.

While I understand that this series is considered a futuristic romance-humanity is living in space, after all, traveling between planets and/or universes through worm holes (portals)-the way it’s written it feels more like an alternative reality than truly a futuristic or science fiction construct. Inasmuch as humanity at its core hasn’t changed much in thousands of years so far, it feels realistic to have people behaving as we do however far into the future.

The world building is better in this novel than it is in Undercover, Ms Dane’s first Federation novel. It is more detailed and yet less evident. Ms Dane works it into the background, making many of the social strictures of her universe part of the conflict between Abby and Roman, in such a way that there is no info-dumping anywhere. When the characters talk about what is happening-political events, undercurrents of rebellion, social unrest, etc.-it is pertinent both to the bigger picture and to the development of the romance.

There are several examples, some subtle and some not so much, of the differences between members of the Families and the unranked, or common folk. The Families live practically on top of the ‘vents’ so that their houses are warm in winter and quick to cool off in summer, while the unranked may wait years before they are eligible for a location even relatively close to a vent.

The real challenges, though, are more cultural. As I mentioned in my review of Undercover, the gender rôles for men and women of the Ranked are quite rigid. Marriages are brokered with an eye to alliances and power gain. In contrast, unranked women are free to pursue professional careers in a plethora of fields, and while there are positions that no unranked person can attain, there is plenty they can achieve.

Because of this, the main conflict between Abbie and Roman centers on their respective social status. He is not just Ranked, he holds the highest position in all the worlds of the Federation, while she is not only unranked, but a political and social reformer who is agitating for changes in government. Following the events narrated in Undercover* a liaison between them would spell dire consequences for both.

*spoiler-less nutshell: some members of a couple of high ranking Families are about to be tried for treason, accused of working with the Imperialists, the main enemies of the Federation.

Despite having faced and survived abuse of power from members of the Ranked Families pretty much all of her life, Abbie is perfectly aware that not all of the Ranked are useless or, worse, evil. In fact, she is not even advocating for a radical change in the political structure of the Federation. What she wants is for the unranked to be better represented in the government and for the Families to understand better the realities of life for them.

Roman represents pretty much the best of what the Ranked Families have to offer. He feels a strong responsibility towards all the people of the Federation, Ranked or not, and has worked tirelessly for more than twenty years to strengthen it against its external and internal enemies. He is still, however, very much a man of privilege, who cannot conceive just how many hoops Abbie and people like her have to go through to accomplish what his birth guarantees him.

For example, early in the story Abbie waits for close to two hours in Roman’s front office, for the opportunity to talk with him about her group and what reforms they espouse. After waiting more than most people would do (which she does because no member of any of the Families has received any of her group’s members since its inception, and here she has a meeting with the highest Ranked man in the entire Federation) she leaves a slightly pithy message with his assistant and goes off to try to salvage the rest of her day.

In the meantime, Roman had been dealing with a crisis in one of the Federation’s worlds, involving the poisoning of the planet’s water supply, so when he finds out this nobody has left, his reaction is great: “… Does she think I have free time running from my fingertips? She had an appointment with me. I made the time. I can’t simply drop everything to suit her schedule.”

His assistant Marcus, an unranked man who has worked for (and with) him for over two decades, has to point out that Abbie is a professional barrister (lawyer) who also had to make all sorts of contortions to fit this meeting into her schedule. While Roman, a bit grudgingly, accepts that it is his turn to accommodate her, he is convinced that, “It was easy to criticize. But she had a house and a job** and he spent every waking moment leading people. He wished people understood what sacrifices the Ranked made instead of assuming they were all lazy, irresponsible fools.”

** The implication being that it is because of the Families’ wise governing that the Federation worlds are prosperous and that there are jobs and opportunities for the unranked.

I really like Roman’s and Abbie’s interactions with each other, because they stay true to character throughout the novel. During their first face to face, their attraction to each other is made clear yet they remain true to themselves. E. g., Roman has just rebuked her when “She had the audacity to laugh and he had the audacity to be charmed in a startled sort of way.” A bit later, during the same scene, Abbie thinks to herself, “Good gods, Roman Lyons was ten kinds of delicious even as waves of privilege rolled from him as he sat at her table.”

From there, their explosive physical attraction evolves into liking, caring and love, slowly enough for it to feel substantial. They don’t agree on many things, and they both are ignorant enough about each other’s reality for their time together to be a journey of discovery on many levels.

And then there are both Roman’s and Abbie’s interactions with other characters. Marcus, for example, is not only Roman’s assistant but also his friend and confidante. Deimos, his firstborn and heir, is a beloved child and a source of pride to him, and also a fleshed out character with his own opinions, perspective and aspirations. As for Abbie, her brothers and sister, her mother and father, her ex-fiancé and now friend Logan-even her assistant Tasha-they all contribute something tangible to her life.

In fact, all the secondary characters are interesting in their own right, and while some of the secondary plotlines are resolved happily and neatly-thinking here of Marcus and his son for example-other characters’ stories are left untold, not so much in a “sequel baiting” manner as in a realistic way. After all, there are situations and relationships that seem either untenable or outright toxic to someone but where the people involved shrug and simply go on, maintaining the status quo.

These secondary characters’ motivations are realistic and their behaviour fits what we know of them: the shallow second son’s sense of entitlement and privilege; the power grabbing aristocrat; the altruist who is, in fact, motivated by personal ambition. All of them, even those with very limited page time, come across as real people, and I for one would be happy to read their stories if Ms Dane decides to write them.

The pacing of the story worked very well for me. From beginning to end, a number of months pass, and I found it much easier to believe that Abby and Roman have forged such deep bonds during this length of time-particularly given their differences in perspective and the external conflicts separating them-than if the action had covered a handful of days, or even weeks.

I do have, however, a few quibbles. My main one is that I hate the word “cunt” with a passion and a vengeance. Because for me it only has negative connotations, it takes me out of the scene each and every time I read it. However, and because I’ve read other of Ms Dane’s stories, I’ve come to accept that her characters use it only in a positive context (a descriptor not a qualifier), so I’m getting somewhat better at ignoring it. (Or rather, I mentally change it to “pussy” )

Another quibble is that it would seem that one important thread in the story is dropped after Roman’s grand gesture in one of the last chapters, and which has been a cause of concern for Roman, Abby’s brothers and other people for a length of time, just seems to vanish, not to be mentioned again. My last objection is to the epilogue-which is not titled as such but has the “seven months later” thing as a header. But then, I hate epilogues as a rule.

Relentless is indeed a worthy follow up for Undercover, and gets an 8.5 out of 10 from me.

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2 Responses to “Relentless, by Lauren Dane”

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