Author: Ava Jae
Genre: science fiction
Published: expected March 1 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.
Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.
When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.
This debut had a lot of potential to be a memorable sff read that explored power dynamics in social relationships, or an sff novel that used political intrigue and scheming to move its plot along, or it could be an illogical teenage romance set on a different planet. Beyond the Red tries to be all three and concentrates mainly, and thus succeeds the most, at the third option. There are some good aspects to the science fiction novel but it was a flawed read for me.
There's just not enough depth to the world shown in Beyond the Red. The author tries to create an interesting political plot that encompasses betrayal and coup d'etats and hidden royalty but there's little political context given to Kora or to her quasi-queendom. The worldbuilding that does exist in the novel is different and interesting, but not encompassing enough to really make the world work other than because the author says so. Jae has a good imagination and that shows the most in her system of ruling and in how the societies seem to work. But why is there such hate between the races? Why is it so bad for them to intermarry? Things like this are not even acknowledged and it makes the setting feel incomplete.
I could almost forgive Beyond the Red for being entirely not as described if the romance was salvageable. But, it's really not. See, Kora is the Queen and Eros (yes, reaaaally) is her slave. But there's no way I can believe that this romantic relationship would work the abrupt way it's shown to evolve here. I mean kudos for waiting 25% to establish characters in their alternating POVs, but having a fledgling and struggling Queen conscript a kidnapped half-blood traitor with a ~mysterious past/parents whose adoptive family she LITERALLY just ordered murdered to be her personal guard at all times? No. That makes no sense, I don't care how you try to sell it.
The relationship between the two teens is problematic for other reasons than pure logic of having emotion -- aka the power dynamics between them are skewed and skeevy and not handled particularly well -- so there's little emotional core to Beyond the Red. I can forgive a lot if I ship the characters or I like them individually, and while they both have potential to grow into more well-defined versions (Kora, especially) I'm not sure if I will read on to see how the inevitable sequel to this handles the issues in their relationship.