When the colonists first settled on the planet Daleer, there was plenty to support them all. However, as the population increased, Daleer's resources were spread thin. Then a nasty virus spread through the people, killing mostly females who had born children. The women did not want to risk getting pregnant, so they did not have sex with the males. To combat this, the males created men with gorgeous physical beauty and shadra, a psychological talent that could give both exquisite pleasure and excruciating pain. When the population began to rise again, the people of Daleer split into two warring factions. One was led by Gemen, who believed that the men with the shadra formed an important part of life on the planet. The other, led by Arath, believed that all of the men with shadra should be killed to keep women from wanting to have sex. Several hundred years later, these two groups are still at war...
Princess Escallitoni Q'Sadone Arath is the only heir to King Arath, ruler of the Sorisi. She dreads her upcoming marriage to Viceroy Reman, but can see no way of getting out of it. In her culture, women are forced to wear veils and be submissive at all times. Yet Princess Calli's rebellious spirit refuses to be broken, though her father has often tried. On her way to the viceroy's fortress, she playfully trades places with her handmaiden, Solte, to see what it would be like to be a commoner. When the Shadrani, the descendants of Gemen, attack the party, it is Solte who is rescued and Princess Calli falls into the hands of her father's bitter enemies. She does not know what she should do, but she knows that she must keep her identity a secret or they will surely kill her.
Calli soon meets the Prince of Gemen, Erone, and he is the most stunningly beautiful man she has ever met - but he looks at her with such hatred! As Calli travels with the Shadrani to their residence deep in the forest she learns that the Shadrani are people with hopes and fears just like the Sorisi. However, she soon learns that there is one major difference between the two cultures - the Sorisi practice birth control by throwing infant girls to their death from the walls of their fortresses and the Shadrani practice birth control by forbidding intercourse between men and women except by royal command.
Instead, the Shadrani live in same-sex relationships where they bond their life to their mate. Calli is equally horrified by both methods and is shocked to discover that the reason she was kidnapped was to mate with the Prince of Gemen and give him an heir! How can she have sex with a man who hates her? What is even worse is, after she has had sex with him, she cannot get enough of him and begins to fall in love with him. Yet what kind of future can they have together when they are living in a society that forbids intercourse between men and women? And what will happen with Erone discovers her real identity?
Novak has created a rich, fully realized world with a history and set traditions that is ready to change. Calli and Erone are but the beginning of the story and I do hope that Novak gives us more in this world. I loved the Shadrani and thought that their culture was fascinating. It was really different to think of male/female relationships being outlawed to control the births on the planet. All of the characters were well drawn and fleshed out, I felt that I knew all of them well and understood their motivations and why they acted the way they did. The reason why I gave the book 4 stars is I felt that the plot line could have been developed a little better - the first half of the book is pretty slow and then there is a lot of action packed into the last half of the book. I would also like to see some better dialogue. Still, Novak has written a great book about an intriguing world with a lot of potential. I am eagerly awaiting another book dealing with these diverse cultures!
This report prepared by Debbie