I bought this, after considerable internal debate, because it was tagged “asexual romance.” The reasons why it took me a while to finally hit the “buy” button included reviews that said it wasn't very good, its price-to-word count ratio (it cost about twice what I would normally be willing to pay for something this long), and angels (I don't read much angel fiction).
Anyway, this novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. An economic collapse plunged the world into chaos, and now everyone is either affiliated with a gang or living in fear of the gangs. If you're with one of the gangs, you're either a sex slave or you have a mate and are marginally protected. Martin, an asexual man, is scared and depressed. He's just been left by his latest mate – every one of them ends up wanting more from him than he's willing to give. Seeing no other acceptable options, he decides to kill himself by jumping off Spire Rock. He is saved by the angel Anael, who has been sent to evaluate humans and determine whether it would be best to destroy everything with Black Rain, thereby wiping the slate clean for God's next new world. The angel decides that Martin will be his guide as he makes his final decision.
I'll start with the good. I was interested enough in the story to see where the author was going to go with all of this, so the 59 pages weren't as much of a slog as I'd feared they would be. Also, it was nice that both the asexual character (Martin) and the transgender character (that one's a spoiler) got happy endings.
Now for the bad. According to the copyright page, this had two editors. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they checked for typos and did little else. This needed a lot more work than that. There were phrases and word choices that needed tweaking, and world details and character interactions would have benefited from someone going over it all and asking “Does this make sense? Is any of it contradictory?”
“A tormented expression and the rings around his sad, blue eyes had made him look older than he actually was.” (9)
I'm pretty sure the author actually meant “circles under his eyes” rather than “rings around his eyes.”
“Matching red uniforms finished their costumes, a red that signified the color of the Scrapers, the gang that ruled these parts.” (13)
This is redundant, as we're told twice that their uniforms are red. Also, red doesn't signify a color, it is a color.
As far as the world went, I have no clue how it was able to function. George R.R. Martin's Westeros is less brutal than this place – neither adults nor children were safe from being turned into sex slaves by the gangs, and it didn't seem like anyone did anything but hide (if you weren't in a gang), fight, or rape. How was everyone staying fed? Readers were told that the gas had run out long ago, so I wouldn't think there'd be much canned food left, but at the same time no one seemed to be producing any new food. Where were the gardens, the livestock, and the people to take care of it all? Oh, and where did the gangs get all those bullets? They used them like they were playing a video game with unlimited ammo.
Another thing the author didn't think through very well was time. Readers were told that God slept on the Sabbath, “one day in Heaven that spanned a thousand years in Earth time" (6). However, later on we saw characters in Heaven looking in on people on Earth, 25 years later in Earth time. We were told that the people in Heaven had had “enough time to build a life" (56). Now, math is not my strong suit, but even I know that those numbers don't work out. The characters in Heaven got only a tiny fraction of a day together while those 25 years sped by on Earth.
Now I suppose I should talk about the whole “asexual romance” aspect. Anael and Martin's love for each other was very sudden and bland. I think Martin fell for Anael primarily because Anael didn't have sex organs and was therefore the “safest” romantic partner possible. Anael fell for Martin because Martin saved him, and also maybe because he was “pure.”
This touches on something that made me a little uncomfortable. It felt like readers were supposed to see Martin's asexuality as making him better and purer than others. Sexual feelings were dirty and corrupting. I also didn't like the mention of Martin having been raped “twenty-or-so years ago,” because that came a little too close to indicating that he was asexual because he was raped.
Zagar's efforts to write Martin as an asexual person sometimes felt like being smacked in the face with the exact opposite. For example, here is Martin noticing Anael's appearance: “For a non-sexual being, he was the perfect sculpture of a man. Martin felt the stirring of a yearning that had nothing to do with sexual hunger.” (15) And here's one I cut short to avoid spoilers, although I'll mention that it made my skin crawl in context: “His tender hands moved the sponge over Anael’s body without the slightest hint of wanton desire . . .” (22) By repeatedly telling readers there was nothing sexual about his actions, Zagar managed to make it seem like Martin was thinking about sex all the time.
There are a lot of other things I could write about, like the utter lack of details about characters' lives (What were the names of Martin's mates? No wonder they all left him, if he never bothered to talk to them like they were people) and my discomfort with the magical changes everyone needed to go through in order to be happy, but this review is already long enough. All in all, while I'm glad I wasn't expecting much, I still feel a bit disappointed. The story did manage to hold my interest, but the writing and world-building needed lots of work. I can't see myself ever recommending this to anyone.
(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)