Beyond the Rain, by Jess Granger

25 Aug

Beyond the Rain, by Jess Granger

I blogged just a few days ago about my moral hangover about the ARCs I have in my forever-growing-like-the-blob-thing TBR mountain range, and how I agonize over what to read next, and…

Yeah, well, I’m also a mood reader, which means that when a book calls loud enough, nothing will do but for me to devour it. Best thing ever is when that compulsion is rewarded by an engrossing read that keeps me awake half the night and has me grabbing for the book first thing upon opening my weary eyes in the morning.

That was the case with Beyond the Rain.

This futuristic/science-fiction flavored romance is Ms Granger’s debut novel and may I say, what a GREAT way to start a career it is? Seriously, people. Not only is the world building near flawless, the characters are extremely engaging.

The basic setup for the beginning of the novel is given by the (unusually accurate and perhaps just a teensy bit spoilery) back cover blurb:

In a universe torn apart by civil war, a warrior and a slave must fight for their freedom, for their lives, and for a love that may destroy them both…

After five years behind enemy lines, Captain Cyani is ready to retire to her home world of Azra as one of the Elite—the celibate warrior sisterhood that rules the planet. But first she must complete one final mission to rescue her fellow Union soldiers. The last thing she expects to find is a prisoner, chained and beaten—but radiating feral power and maintaining an unbroken spirit…

Soren is one of the Byralen, an enigmatic people who possess a unique hormone that they use to bond with their mates—and that is sold as a sexual narcotic in the shadow trade. For years, he has endured torture at the hands of his captors as they leeched his very essence. The last thing he expects is to be freed from slavery by a beautiful warrior woman with radiant blue eyes.

Driven by her rigid sense of honor, Cyani risks her life to free Soren. But after so many years of slavery, his hormones are so unbalanced that he will die if he does not bond with a woman. Can Cyani be the woman he needs to survive, or will this forbidden bond destroy them?

Let me start with a caveat: the quality of the writing is just, very slightly, uneven. In parts—particularly the first three or four pages—it feels as if Ms Granger were struggling to find the right balance between world building and background information, and info dumping, as well as still finding her voice. Do not let that stop you, because things only get better and better from there.

And the first look already gives us reason to cheer: look, the heroine rescues the hero—hooray! But that is barely the tip of the iceberg. What is most interesting is how Ms Granger gives both Cyani and Soren pasts and backgrounds complex enough to create an internal conflict that is believable and, with one exception, quite logical.

The action really gains momentum the moment Cyani first sees Soren chained in his cell, and the world building becomes subtler and much more layered as the novel goes on. The characterization is consistent, deepening our understanding of both these people with each scene and each conversation.

Let’s go back to the plot.

During a routine (if there is such a thing) rescue mission in enemy territory, Cyani splits from her team in order to free Soren. Of course, nothing worth the effort is that easy, right? Things happen, bad guys get in their way, and in the end Cyani’s team must leave the planet without them, forcing these two to rely on each other while hiding from their mutual enemies and looking for a way out.

Here, Cyani and Soren are often at cross-purposes, but it makes sense that they would be—they each know more than they are saying. The best part is that their silence makes sense, it is not simply a plot device to create conflict; it fits both their personalities and internal motivations, and their backgrounds.

For example, right after Cyani’s team leaves without them, they find an abandoned Union ship. It cannot fly them out of there but the communications work. Cyani destroys it—she’s a soldier and an officer; she cannot allow Union technology to fall into enemy hands—plus she knows her team will send someone back to look for her. All they need to do is survive and evade capture for a few weeks. How hard can that be, right?

Soren is outraged—they could have used that equipment to call for help! And he doesn’t have three weeks. But after so many years in captivity, he cannot bring himself to tell her this—he can barely believe he is free. Another complication is that he is struggling to control himself, to be more human than animal, after so many years of being nothing more than a living, breathing, suffering source of income.

Eventually, they manage to find a way off the planet, but that is just the beginning of their odyssey, of course.

When we first meet her, Cyani has her future firmly set in her mind. Once she’s done with this last mission, she’ll become one of the many, individuality-stripped, sisters who serve at the temples of the Elite in her native Azra. Forced by circumstances beyond her control, she made her choice long ago—accepted the stick and hoped for the carrot, so to speak—and has internalized it to the point where it doesn’t even occur to her to question whether there are any alternatives. Consequently, all her thoughts and decisions are geared toward fulfilling her side of the bargain.

She is supposed to remain aloof, detached, cold. Interestingly, her unconscious behaviour tells a subtly different story. Her affection for her scout Vicca (an incredibly appealing creature which seems to be something between a fox and a cat), her urgency to return Soren to his planet before going back to her own, her struggle to suppress her reactions to him—these are all signs of cracks in her, for lack of a better term, conditioning.

Cyani is very appealing in her humanity. She knows that Soren sees her as strong and self-assured, while she struggles constantly to control her fears and insecurities. She does what she thinks she has to do—the right thing—despite self-doubt.

For his part, all Soren knows is that his future—beyond a few days—is uncertain. A captive, for almost half his life he has been caged and chained. Kept by his owners, in the way a venomous snake is kept in order to procure antivenum, his entire metabolism has been thrown out of balance—a balance that is precarious even on his home planet, but that under the current circumstances is about to crash and burn. His only ambition has been to escape and return to his home to die, the way a wounded animal seeks the comfort of its own den.

Now that Cyani has freed him, Soren starts to believe that perhaps his death is not a foregone conclusion. He starts to hope.

Is there anything more dangerous than hope?

Particularly when coupled with Soren’s marrow-deep integrity.

Because he understands that Cyani has been as much a prisoner all her life as he himself. She is a prisoner of her sense of responsibility and a victim of the manipulations of a ruthless authority figure. He cannot burden her even more, making her responsible for his life—or his death.

The conflict between what each of these two want, and what they need, pitted against what they believe they must do—for each other, for the greater good—is excellently balanced with the external aspects of the story. The world building touches upon the politics between factions and planets, the struggle of class, the tensions between groups of people across a galaxy populated by wildly differing cultures. All of this, though, doesn’t overshadow the development of the relationship between Cyani and Soren.

Beyond the Rain is a solid 8 out of 10.

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