by Ann Aguirre
“I took away your homeworld,” he said softly.
“But you gave me the universe.”
Okay, I need you guys to hear me out on this one. You know I like me some interstellar romance. My undying devotion to Ice Planet Barbarians is legend. For anyone who followed me down that rabbit hole and had a hell of a time witnessing the lives and losses of those horny blue aliens and their human mates, Strange Love is the next logical step in alien space romance.
BUT I NEED TO WARN YOU. Completely inhuman alien sex happens in here, and yes, it is freaky. Like, “WTF am I reading and should I be turned on right now?” levels of weirdness.
I figured I’d put that at the top of my review for anyone who just can’t with that. No shade if it’s not your thing. Really, it’s not my thing either but I still adored the hell out of this book. Because the couple is so stinking adorable and I haven’t laughed this hard while reading a romance in a long, loooooong time.
Speaking of that couple. Zylar of Kith Balak is on his last chance to win himself a mate. He’s so desperate that he’s decided to join an interstellar dating service because his past experiences wooing his own race have left him a little bruised, romantically. So he matches with a perfectly acceptable off-world female and departs to find her. Aaaand then his ship hits a solar flare, he’s thrown off course, and the AI that runs his navigation is scrambled. But he doesn’t know that.
Beryl, a human woman, is just minding her business walking home from a Renaissance Faire when she sees some strange lights in the sky. She and her dog, Snaps, are understandably terrified when a UFO touches down in front of her, and a creature straight out of the Predator movies steps out and starts talking to her. She thinks she’s about to be probed. She has no idea that the big scary alien has mistaken her for his intended mate.
Much like in IPB, these two can’t communicate with each other, so Zylar implants her with a translator. Thinking that her dog, Snaps, is some equally intelligent life form, he implants Snaps too, and friends, this was the best talking dog I’ve come across in literature.
“Come on. How bad could it be?”
That was a rhetorical question, but nobody had explained that concept to dogs because he answered, “They could eat us. Burn us. Put us in cages. Not all at once.”
What was almost as funny as his scene-stealing was the fact that Zylar notices how much Beryl dotes on and takes care of Snaps and assumes that she does so because on her homeworld of “Aerth”, Snaps must be some sort of higher being.
I absolutely loved how funny Aguirre was able to make all of these miscommunications. And really, there was a sly truth to pretty much every thought Zylar had about humans’ relationships with dogs.
Her recitation made it clear that Snaps was the real power in their partnership – that she acted as his servant.
I have to hand it to both Zylar and Beryl here. They take a difficult situation and try to face it head-on. Once the translator is installed, Zylar is quick to realize the mixup, and he is profusely apologetic to Beryl. He’d be more than willing to immediately take her home, only the AI on board his ship is so scrambled that after making the jump back to Zylar’s home planet, the coordinates for earth are lost and Berly is basically stranded in space.
Internally, she’s (understandably) freaking the hell out. She’s on a strange world with strange creatures and no hope of ever going home. But bless her, she decides that since freaking out won’t change anything, she might as well try to make the best out of the hand she’s been dealt. Which isn’t difficult when her guide to this new planet, Zylar, is so kind and caring.
Pretty quickly they form a solid friendship and decide to face Zylar’s “Choosing” together. Overpopulation was a huge problem on his world, so now, to control it, his people take part in a sort of Hunger Games style competition to win the right to mate.
I loved this part of the book. There were trials by blood, but also intelligence-based puzzles for them to get through. My favorite part, by far, took place during one of the more violent matches, when Beryl got swept up in the competition.
Adrenaline kicked in – fight or flight – and with both nestlings screeching in her ears, she reacted, kicking the climber in the skull with all her might.
As the combatant fell she shouted, “This is Sparta!” Because obviously.
But this isn’t just a fluffy sci-fi rom-com. There are some darker themes here, of loss and vengeance, and we’re also shown that humans aren’t the only creatures in the universe to exploit power. Elitism, privilege, classism, sexism – these aliens are just as likely as us to act like assholes if they let their status go to their heads.
Including these heavier topics gave this book a bit of much-welcomed depth, made me cheer that much harder for Beryl and Zylar to triumph over adversity.
I’ve read several Ann Aguirre books now, and I’ve loved every single one. Her thriller The Third Mrs. Durst was nothing shy of brilliant, and her gothic Beauty and the Beast retelling, Bitterburn, was another easy five stars for both me and Angela. Part of why Aguirre is on my auto-buy list is that she excels at writing in any genre she decides to tackle, and Strange Love did nothing but further drive this point home.
I really can’t recommend this book enough for anyone that likes well-rounded characters, adventure, space shenanigans, legitimate laugh-out-loud humor, and melt-your-heart romance.
Just, ah, maybe skip the sexy times if words like “gynosomes” and “spermatophores” make you cringe.