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I blame the cover for being simultaneously excited and wary for this one. It’s gorgeous, (though Aelyx couldn’t look less like his book description,) but it looks really romance-y. I love a good romance, but with a cover that’s practically begging for phrases like “literally star-crossed”, I was worried the melodrama was going to be exceptionally high, to the detriment of other plot elements. Fortunately, Alienated has space opera tendencies, but it’s also funny, intriguing, and well paced. Because most of the novel takes place on Earth, we’re able to be introduced to the more fantastical elements a bit at a time, without a ton of infodumping. The romance grows and feels natural, if a bit too intense at the end. In all, I’m happy to say my last read of 2013 was one of my favorites.
Cara Sweeney is an overachiever to the extreme and isn’t afraid to get a little ruthless to stay on top. This endears her to the recently discovered L’eihr race, aliens that, while being genetically identical to humans, have far out evolved us through heavy selective breeding. The L’eihr are hopeful that an exchange program between a few select students will be just the ticket to a full on Earth alliance. And that’s where Aelyx comes in.
As one of three L’eihr clones sent to Earth, Aelyx will live with Cara and attend her high school, (even though it’s staggeringly below his education level.) In exchange, Cara will spend the following year in space, learning about the L’eihr culture. Hopefully, though cultural exchange, the dissenters will see there’s nothing to fear from each other and Earth will get the desperately needed alien tech, (they generously gave us the cure to cancer for free,) and the L’eihr will…well that is the mystery as to what our alien big brothers could possibly need from us. Aelyx isn’t too interested in puny humans and is immediately up to something tricksy, which is just fine with Cara, who could do without his smug arrogance. Unfortunately, not all Earthlings favor an intergalactic alliance and they make their presence increasingly known over the course of the book. Cara underestimates humanity’s ability to hate and soon finds herself a social pariah and victim of increasingly violent threats. Bonding together as outcasts, she and Aelyx realize there’s a lot to admire about the other and they become friends, and more, in the face of bigotry.
Alienated has some genuinely funny moments, mostly revolving around Aelyx adapting to life on Earth. Googling kissing to find out why humans are so obsessed with the topic? Inspired. However, it’s darker and deals more with the nature of humanity than expected. I found that to be a good thing, but not everyone will agree. HALO, the anti-L’eihr group, harkens back to many other hate groups in history and the story has a lot of parallels to the civil rights movement. It’s not my favorite story telling tool; it can feel trivializing of the very real struggle against actual, real-life hate groups. Its not deployed badly here, but I wish there had been another way to illustrate the point that L’eihr are feared without the (fictionalized) Westboro Baptist Church showing up.
While the worldbuilding isn’t the most inspiring in sci-fi, the L’eihr are a pretty standard advanced civilization, I thought the ideas all came together well. Character wise, I liked that Cara got a little ruthless. That she suffered a lot of heartbreak and got mad about it. She’s a really good friend and very sensitive to Aelyx being in a new environment, but there’s selfishness in her desire to make him comfortable. In other words, she’s pretty well rounded and realistic for a teenager. She may lose herself a bit in love, but she rallies for the big climax. And Aelyx is pretty dreamy.
A little funny, a little thought provoking. A little romance, a little action. Alienated is a treat and a new series that I’m very excited to continue.