Desert World Allegiances
by Lyn Gala
SF, some M/M romance
ARC from Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher.
Permission granted to use cover art from the publisher.
On the desert world of Livre, wasting water is not just stupid, it's a crime. Temar Gazer and his sister Cyla have been trying desperately to keep their small family farm going after their father's death, but their water ration keeps going missing with impressive regularity. They suspect one of their neigbours, George Young, has somehow been stealing their water. But one night after Cyla goads Temar into going with her to gather evidence, disater strikes and they accidentally end up wasting gallons of George Young's water instead. Caught red handed the two of them have no option but to submit to the council's judgements and Temar loses out on becoming an apprentice glassmaker.
Instead, Temar and his sister are sentenced to slavery for ten years for the waste of water but thankfully neither of them end up as slaves to George Young. It doesn't take Temar long to discover the identity of the real water thief, but his proof is destroyed and threats against his sister make it difficult to speak out against the culprit.
Shan Polli is a priest and also a council member, one of the few who oppose slavery on Livre, but he has no good solution to offer instead. Livre is on its own and it is considered a waste to have able-bodied people in prison getting fed when instead they could be out in the fields helping grow the few crops that the hostile desert planet can support. After an attack on his life after he visits Cyla to see how she is getting on, Shan realises that there are bigger things going on than just wasted water. But without knowing who they can trust, Temar and Shan are on their own to try and figure out what is going on.
Lyn Gala has written an imaginiative tale with excellent world-building. You can feel the heat and the dust and the despair that the characters go through wondering if they can make it through another season without help from anyone else. The terraforming ships have long since stopped coming and the outer worlds are at war with each other, leaving Livre forgotten and unsupported.
Temar's new owner is abusive, although most of the abuse happens offscreen as it were, the reader is just left with the evidence that it has happened. There are references to child abuse and sexual abuse, again offscreen and not used gratitiously, but adding to the characterisation.
As this was a Dreamspinner Press book, I have to admit that I was expecting much more of a romance between Shan and Temar, so I was a little disappointed in that aspect, but there are supposed to be more books in the series so maybe that will be explored further. Don't get me wrong, Shan and Temar do share a very strong relationship, although at the moment it is not a sexual one and after Temar's abuse, that is fine by me. He needs time to come to terms with his slavery and Shan needs to consider his priestly vows as well, so it does make good narrative sense that the two of them don't jump straight into bed.
All in all a good book and I'm glad I read it.