Book Review: Heat

A few days ago I blogged about a self-published book that was just awful. I believe it was free, but might have been $0.99 and in either case I felt ripped off. Other than the cover, which was good, that book was everything scoffers complain about with self-pubbed books.

Today, I bring you a review of a self-published book I really liked, though, as you’ll see, this book isn’t for everyone. Dear Author has a review you might find interesting. If you don’t like spoilers, read that review, because I do tend to be spoilerish.

Heat by R. Lee Smith/R. L. Smith

I’ll start off with the bad because it won’t take too long.

1. The cover: My God, the cover is awful. It’s amateurish and embarrassing. Really, Smith should be ashamed of that cover.

2. The formatting: Rife with errors. If Smith is paying someone to produce her eBooks, she’s being robbed. If she’s not, she needs to pay someone because whatever s/he’s doing, s/he’s not good at it. Fortunately, the errors, while irritating and embarrassing for the author, didn’t keep me from reading. Just for some context, the eBook of my Berkley historical Indiscreet IS unreadable, so at least Smith is doing better than Berkley was in 2009. And at least Smith can send someone the file, get it fixed, and reuploaded quickly. PLEASE because I will be rereading major parts of this book.

3. Editing and copy-editing: The book needs copy-editing. It’s pretty clean, but there were errors. Smith is a VERY strong writer, but I think a skilled editor could take this from really damn good to amazing, mostly with some tightening up. There are some repetitive passages. Further, this is a LONG book and there are places where things could be tightened up. However, this book is on a par with anything coming out of NY, only way riskier.

4. There are some pacing problems. See 3 above. A good editor would surely hone in on those issues. The issue with Raven’s period goes on too long as does Daria’s refusal to accept what’s happening to Tagen. Those scenes got repetitive because the issue was already established and nothing new was added in the subsequent scenes.

Content Warning

This story has some extremely strong sexual content and there are going to be people who can’t/don’t want to read books like this. There are scenes, many, many scenes of rape. The rapist is an alien and in the first quarter or more of the book, to him, humans are “its” — an inferior species. He has to check gentalia to figure out whether a given human is male or female. If you are a reader who cannot handle a rapist hero, then do not read this book. It won’t work for you. I wasn’t entirely sure it would work for me. But it did.

The Story

There are two heroes and heroines in this book.

The first hero is the rapist hero, Kane. He’s a completely twisted unrepentant alien fuck. In his own planetary system, he’s a slaver, drug lord and space pirate. His heroine is a young human woman named Raven. I’ll say more about her later.

The second hero is Tagen, an alien police officer/soldier sent to Earth to find and arrest Kane. His heroine is Daria, a human woman who is, at the start, a house-bound nuerotic. With a cat. More on her and the cat later.

These aliens come from a world where females are both rare and socially and politically dominant. Males are subject to Heat, which is a condition that causes the uncontrollable need to mate. If unsatisfied, it’s incredibly painful. So, males in Heat need to fuck and fuck long and hard. Heat is triggered by temperature. On the home planet, it’s only hot enough to trigger Heat for maybe 10 days of their solar cycle.

These two alien men are on earth in the US in summer. The beginning of summer. And it’s fucking hot. They’re in Heat from the get go. Kane intends to harvest (kill) humans for dopamine, go home with his new slave Raven and make a bloody fortune. Tragen intends to stop Kane.

What worked and what didn’t work for me

The writing is strong. Better yet, the story and characters are coherent. (Oh, thank you!!!!) Whatever you may think of the story and the characters in it, this is a well crafted book. It’s possible to actually critique this book because this is not an author with fiction-writing deficits. Rather ironically, that means it’s possible to make this book sound like it’s not as good as it is.

Within the world Smith has built things make sense and are internally consistent. I have a deep love of stories that explore power imbalances and Kane and Raven’s story is all about power imbalances. Basically, theirs is a BDSM relationship but without the safety of a typical BDSM book. He’s the dom and she’s the sub, and if you don’t like stories that explore that, this won’t work for you. Because, as you must see from the set up, there’s no saftey net for Raven. Kane first takes her along with him because he’s in Heat and needs a woman to fuck. Before long, he’s decided to keep her as his slave.

Raven’s attempt to protect herself mentally makes enough sense, but I did have trouble with her quick acceptance of Kane as more than an abductor. She completely accepts his dominance over her and what’s more, she accepts her enslavement to him. Kane moves from seeing Raven as a receptacle for his cock to a sentient being who is clever, capable and really, really good at the kind of sex he likes. Eventually he sees her as a “person”, though never ever, ever outside her submissiveness or enslavement to him.

Tagen, the alien cop, is the White Knight. His relationship with Daria is, at times, almost treacly sweet, but the romance was really well done, I thought. Oddly enough, even though Daria is not submissive or enslaved, more than once I found her to be more of an emotional doormat than Raven, who was enslaved, abused and stripped of almost all agency except for what flowed back to her via Kane. Daria’s self-blame annoyed me just about every time it came up. Tagen has Heat, too, but he has several days of medications that suppress the effects. Then the medicine runs out. Uh oh. Daria comes up with a rather clever solution for his Heat, but eventually, that’s just not enough. When Tagen and Daria hit the road on Kane’s trail, they take the cat with them. Which was AWESOME. Tagen loves the cat, by the way.

For a time, there’s a third person in the Kane, Raven mix and I had less love for the author’s decisions here than just about anywhere else. It doesn’t really go anywhere or add much of psychological interest to the Kane/Raven relationship.

The two couples run parallel stories that are plainly going to collide in major ways and how, how!? are both couples going to remain alive at the end? I’d say it’s not quite as surprising as others have suggested, but is IS very very well done and completely satisfying.

Some other Thoughts

I immediately bought other books by this author. I started with Olivia, but I believe this will be DNF for me. Olivia is an abduction story along the lines of Mars Needs Earth Women, only the Martians are creatures that live inside a remote mountain. The Creatures are, to me, too obviously based on Native American elements and spirituality. The heroine is passive and accepting to the point where there was no tension. I started skipping huge sections. There was creature human sex and I ended up not caring. Your Mileage May Vary.

I also bought The Care and Feeding of a Griffin. This book was a major win for me. It’s Book 1 in the Lords of Arcadia series and at the end, I immediately bought the rest. The series is basically erotica meets Narnia, only Book 1 doesn’t have any sex, or so little as to not matter. But Book 1 is really well done, in my opinion. Book 2 of the series was less of a success. (Book 1 set a REALLY high bar.) The books follow the same heroine, and there’s a fair amount of sex, but the heroine, for me, falls into Mary Sue territory. She can do no wrong and, as with Olivia, she becomes maddeningly passive. Things happen to her. She makes some really ridiculous TSTL decisions from which she must be rescued by creatures. Further, her coterie of creature heroes decide not to tell her about a HUGE danger to her so, duh, she cannot take steps to protect herself nor understand why the others behave as they do.

My take on this is that it’s an authorial decision, deliberate or otherwise. Her other heroines are also marked by what is, ultimately, a disturbing lack of personal agency. And yet, the world is compelling and well, if you’ve ever wanted Narnia with sex, this is the series for you.

I want Smith to hook up with an editor because a really good editor is going to push her writing to amazing places. Heat, in particular, strikes me as precisely the sort of book NY ought to be publishing but isn’t. Likewise with the Lord of Arcadia series.

Have you read anything of Smith’s? If so, what did you think?

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5 Responses to “Book Review: Heat”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’m curious to know where you go to find self-published books?

    I know of a few sites but I’m always looking for more. I’m finding when I do find a good self-published book it’s more my style. I think your very right about these are the books NY ought to be publishing but isn’t.

    Sometimes when I read traditionally published books I can’t help but feel that the author wanted a bit edgier tone but couldn’t because of trends or taboos or maybe it’s what doesn’t sell.

    In any case, thank you for the review! I’m going to look into it.

    • Usually I hear about a good self-pubbed book from someone else. The website Dear Author has been a good source of tips. If you hang out, literally or virtually, where readers are, you’ll hear about books worth checking out. I’ve learned to be wary of Amazon reviews. If I’m on the fence about a self-pubbed book, I look at the reviews — there are some recognizable indicators of someone who is managing to post reviews that aren’t authentic. And, of course, the sample is crucial.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Thank you! I’m going to lurk more at my local website! Would that be considered loitering if I do that? I’m imagining pop-up ads saying–buy something already!

  3. pamelia says:

    Great review. I am literally shocked at how well written Smith’s books are. Imagine how immaculate an editor could make them!!?
    I loved Heat too and wish I knew how to determine which friends of mine it would be safe to say “read this now!” because talk about a book with triggers!!
    I also read all the Lords of Arcadia books. I had the same feelings you did about book 1 being so good it was ridiculous and book 2 falling into Mary Sue ish everyone wants the heroine for no apparent reason territory. However, the wrap-up of book 2 was spectacular and had me reading with my heart in my throat, so it was redeemed. Books 3 and 4 follow a similar structure to the first 2 with Taryn’s sister now in the mix and even though she starts out whiny and self-pitying and annoying (for pretty darn good reasons) Rhiannon turns into a kick-ass heroine.
    I’m giving myself another month or so before I pick up “Scholomance”.

    • Pamela: thanks for stopping by! Smith is a very good writer. When she’s on her game, she’s great. Other books by her have been much less of a success for me. She appears to have written a lot of books under other names as well. I’d be interested in your reaction to Scholomance.