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The distant world Artemis is a pleasure planet created out of bare rock by a technologically advanced human empire that provided its richest citizens with a veritable Eden to play in. All tech was concealed and the animals (and the humans brought to live there) were bioengineered to help the guests enjoy their stay…but there was always the possibility of danger so that visitors could brag that they had “bested” the environment.

The Empire was shattered in a horrific war; centuries later humanity has lost much of the advanced technology and Artemis is a fable told to children. Until young archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints that send him on a quest to find the lost world. Stranded on Artemis after crashing his ship, he encounters the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow. Their journey with her will lead Dane to discover the planet’s secrets…and perhaps provide a key to give unimagined power back to mankind. (source)

I have a serious thing for companion animals stories. I still love His Dark Materials (and all associated AU fanfic), Zoo City was amazing, and Temeraire meets the qualifications even if I tend to prefer the non-fantasy animal side of things most of the time. This book should have been right up my alley! Bioengineered humans and animals connected via mental link! A pleasure planet created before a war tore apart an entire space-faring civilization. A planet that's lost to history! The technology that made the planet so palatable to people who wanted to challenge themselves by experiencing "serious" wilderness adventures destroyed! Until someone finds it.

I should have loved this book. Disappointed. :(

Griffin Dane is an archaeologist from the remains of an highly advanced technological society. He crash lands on a planet he believes to be the lost planet Artemis and as soon as he does this basically becomes a quest fantasy. This is where everything goes science fiction light (I guess this is a feature of post-apocalyptic science fiction? Is that just another way to say science fantasy?). He must survive in order to explore and document and maybe, eventually, escape! His quest is a journey to meet with The Old One Who is Young (who all the important characters defer to for ~mysterious~ reasons) and whatever MacGuffins he may be sitting on in order to get Griffin back to his ship in orbit.

I opened it up and immediately got love geometry and awkward lust dust all over my face. While Griffin's doing all of those things, he can pine after Adara and play "I've got my eye on you" game with Terrell, a fellow Artemesian, who is also super into our heroine. The pining in this book was grating. Definitely my #1 concern after crashing on a lost planet after telling no one where I was going and with no hope for rescue and minimal hope for escape would be hot sex with the natives. Absolutely.

I kept wanting everyone to put up a tent and screw each other to resolve some of the "tension", which mostly came off as a little flat, anyway. I mean, sure, maybe in a life or death survival situation we may all have "SEX SEX SEX" running through our heads, or maybe I'm just a sexual prude/find this type of tension boring. I'm not a big fan of love triangles, whatever shape the triangle is in, but here it's mundane and therefore, ignorable most of the time. Even if I was like, "YOU CAN ALL THREE OF YOU MAKE OUT. LET'S GO." I would've been into it. It would've made later scenes more painful! The power of polyamory.

There was also a brilliant mental connection thread introduced so late in the book that there was no time for it to be more than a low fat deus ex machina. Series, seriously.

HOWEVER. I loved Adara and Sand Shadow; Adara with her abilities to see in the dark and her skill with politics and playing to people expectations. Sand Shadow's talent at marbles with her thumbs! They were super great and I wanted so much more of them solving mysteries and working together and being rad. But I am sad because I wanted there to be more animal companions. There were NOT ENOUGH ANIMAL COMPANIONS that we get to meet. Instead of being something commonplace, psych-linked companions seem to be something more special that sets people apart. It's not a great sign that I can't remember if the book explains how Adara and Sand Shadow came to be linked. That probably reveals just how casual the animal companion bits are treated by the book in favor of Griffin's quest and the mystery of a planet gone blue screen like a giant computer running Windows XP.

The worldbuilding is great, too, with fascinating implications about who the people who created Artemis were and how Griffin and the people on Artemis related to them. "Seegnur", as the book calls them, created Artemis to be the best fake wilderness anyone could ask for, and the mystery of them is a nice through-line from start to finish. I wasn't super impressed with the ways that gender essentialism cropped up, though, especially with regards to sex/sexuality.

Spoilers for the mid-way point of the book. 8,000 trigger warnings for rape/sexual assault.

I braced myself for that, a little adventure, probably some more rescuing and eventual resolution to the romance that I would hate. But it kind of went like this:

Renay: Oh sweet, something's happening! THEY'VE FOUND A SECRET BASE.
Book: Yep, it's getting exciting now, right?
Renay: I can't wait to see what's going on. Are they going to reveal that parts of the planet aren't bricked now?
Book: ….well.
Renay: Oh, okay, maybe instead: MOAR ANIMAL COMPANIONS?
Renay: Griffin's identity as a possible descendant of the people who created Artemis is revealed far and wide and there's super huge political implications with The Old One Who Is Young?
Book: …no, actually all I've got is a rape/forced pregnancy plot to breed people with special skills involving hundreds of women that our heros have to go investigate.
Renay: :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(
Book: heeeyyy don't worry I give mild hints about polyamory at the end! :D :D :D
Renay: a;sdja;sjdlakhflakhslkajsd;jwpiha

Friends, let me tell you how appealing any plot that hinges on rape and forced pregnancy (ALSO KIDNAPPING) in my adventure science fantasy story is to me these days. If you guessed -500% you'd be wrong, because it's actually -1,000,000,000%. Offscreen or not, what the hell happened, book? This was the brilliant way we make the bad guy bad? Let me tell you some more how appealing any plot that then doubles down on itself is by making a feature of the daring rescue a dude being offered ladies to fuck! I didn't pay enough attention to Liz's coverage of this book beyond "it's a pretty good read" because I was trying to avoid spoilers. She was less invested in keymashing rage, because okay, the rape/forced pregnancy isn't explicit, it's not on screen, it's referenced and discussed and the narrative abhors it at every turn. And if you read widely (unlike me) I'm sure it becomes so normal that it's hard to get furious about it.

But I'm pretty done with rape as shorthand horrific situation the heroes must overcome when that rape is not their own. Liz is right, it's an okay read for what it is, a very obvious first book in a series with a neon "TO BE CONTINUED!" sign over the last page, but gosh this is so old. Authors, please be better than this instead of writing scenarios where women are violently fucked and forced into carrying children and then sometimes having them ripped away/killed right after they're born. WHAT IS THE POINT if the horror that's inflicted on these women is just a backdrop for someone else's heroic adventure? What about their stories?

(I will take the last minute hints of polyamory, though. And I will probably read the next book because I loved Adara, Sand Shadow, and Griffin's overly excited childish delight of discovery. Because I'm a sucker. REALLY, though? Really?)

Also seriously, can there be more animal companions? CAN GRIFFIN HAVE ONE?

(And is that one character a robot? Because I have some thoughts about secret robots.)

NEW CAMPAIGN: Stop Rape as a Plot Device 2014

Other Reviews
Liz Bourke (Sleeps With Monsters), Val's Random Comments, yours?

Date: 2014-07-23 01:42 pm (UTC)
jinian: (clow reads)
From: [personal profile] jinian
Have you read Lindskold's Firekeeper books? They are so very animal-companion that they made me ship it, which is a little uncomfortable in its own way, but in many ways everything she's written since then has been downhill.

Date: 2014-07-23 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I too love the animal companionship stories. But I am very wary of them because they are often really really bad. I liked the blurb of this but they were a lot or mediocre reviews out there so gave it a miss.

Date: 2014-07-24 02:19 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
It's a shame this didn't work out because I love animal companion stories too and would have been so into finding a good new one.

Also, I don't know if I've mentioned these before but there's this set of books called Chronicles of Ancient Darkness all about a boy and his wolf. They're set in the Stoneage so I don't know if they'll be too hist-fic for your taste, but they have magic and the first one has a really creepy demon bear too.


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