Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Kairn, the first book in the Mates of the Alliance series, is a valiant and spirited effort at a debut sci-fi novel by Fionne Foxxe Farraday. It is well-written, reasonably well-formatted and structured, and it features at least two memorable characters in Kairn and Daria. It also features a rather interesting high-stakes conflict happening in the background. There is also some commendable world-building (and world-destroying) in this.
Kairn is probably pronounced like “Kirin.” You know, like those dragon-unicorn things or the Japanese beer? If it's actually pronounced like “Karn” (similar to “corn”) then you're just asking future audiobook readers to destroy their larynges. Stick with “Kirin” as it makes it at least endurable. Kairn is a Luperan military officer working as an ambassador for an interstellar government called the Galactic Alliance. Luperans are not humans, they are humanoid but with dog or wolf-like features including claws and fangs. They're essentially space werewolves. They bleed blue and have their own warrior code of ethics and honor. For one, Luperans are fiercely loyal and protective of the people they care about and consider their own, similar to domesticated dogs in the real world. They also tend to be exceptionally affectionate to their loved ones, also like pet dogs. There's a clear cuteness and appeal to this species and this character. Who doesn't love their dog(s) and appreciate their loyalty?
Also, the werewolf genre has never been the same since Jacob Black hit the pages and silver screen for Twilight. He became THE iconic sexy werewolf man. And it's a little hard to separate a character like Kairn from a character like Jacob, they share many of the same traits like fierce loyalty and enhanced physical traits and abilities.
Luperans do seem really cool, and we totally want to see them do their thing and live on. They almost remind us of Commander Cruger from Power Rangers: SPD. The guy was a badarse in every way! And what's more is that he was a believable alien character similar to the Luperans in this book.
A powerful and wicked alien race called the Ichori attack the Galactic Alliance, devastating cities and at least one planet. They behave similar to the aliens from Independence Day, and some of their devices actually share the same nickname as the aliens from ID—the “Harvesters.” This might be a subtle nod to the series intended as an homage or it might just be a coincidence.
Anyway, the other major character is Daria, a human doctor who serves as Kairn's love interest throughout the book. This book is essentially built around the relationship between Daria and Kairn. It hinges on it, for better or for worse. There is an appeal to an interspecial/interracial relationship. And it is really obviously that the two character really cared about each other, the problem is that it really distracts and takes away from the big, huge, exciting conflict happening in the background.
This book started off being about a planet devastated by evil aliens and a brave, unique, and charismatic hero looking to try to make things right. It then became all about two people sleeping together. That's putting it lightly. Really, REALLY lightly. There is so much space sex in this. SO much space sex. There's probably more space sex in this book than Water Witch by Kelly Brewer—our go-to example of excessive space sex that also has a very similar plot. There are like entire chunks of this book that are exclusively dedicated to describing the interspecial space sex between Daria and Kairn. These two go after it again and again and again. You know there's a thing that's called a refractory period, right? Like, guys aren't usually these machine-gunners with unlimited ammo. They have to sleep, eat, and allow time for recovery. Or is there a phenomenon in space that we're not aware of that makes your libido go through the roof and shorten the refractory period?
Like, we know he's a Luperan, but he's still a humanoid character, right? Like, he's supposed to be grounded in some sense of reality. This book is in response to the pandemic crisis after all.
Anyway, it's really, really difficult to look past the constant bombardment of explicit space sex. There's also something about the way that these scenes are described that sound like they belong in another genre entirely. We've read dozens of romance novels this year. There's still a kind of tact to presenting the intimacy without it becoming a porno. You'd think that presenting intense and deeply intimate sexual details would help put across the close trust and bond between two characters, but you still have to get a handle on it as a writer. Many of these sex scenes don't seem caring, tender, or affectionate at all, they seem almost bestial and very aggressive.
The words—the language—used to describe the reproductive parts and the sexual acts that are taking place are far from where they really should be to tell a refined, professional story. The language is something you'd expect to read in a fangirl's fan-fiction about an anime character they have fantasies about.
See, pornographic sex also carries with it the association with also being “fake sex.” People don't normally go at it the way they do in those adult films—those are structured and shown the way they are for a reason, and it's not to tell a good story, demonstrate chemistry, and develop characters, we can assure you of that. So, do you kind of get the point? When you're trying to develop characters, show chemistry, and tell a good story, pornographic-like sex is the last route you want to take.
See, in the movie Deadpool, the main couple also had a lot of sex, some of it experimental. That helped to put across the later dilemmas and tragedies later in the story. We could really tell they deeply cared about each other, and the sex was the cherry on top, it wasn't the whole cake. There's a level of the relationship in this book in which the sex seems to be the whole cake. And before it's argued: well, there are examples of them really caring about each other, like being willing to die for each other. Ok. But let's start with that from Kairn's perspective. Kairn's drive to protect a loved one is instinctive. It is natural. It is part of who and what he is as a Luperan. To say that Kairn's drive to protect Daria is a demonstration of him caring is almost like saying that we humans must really enjoy life because we breathe. It's natural. It's part of our biology.
On Daria's end, there is one scene in which she guilt trips and almost begs Kairn—a military officer—to take her into a dangerous situation, saying that she can act as an extra medic. It's like the scene in every movie or TV show when the clearly-vulnerable person in the group insists on coming along with the audience already knowing they're going to get hurt, killed, or kidnapped, becoming a liability to the group/the other protagonists. This doesn't make her endearing, this actually makes her seem a bit annoying.
Now, the author does flip the situation on its head a bit later by putting Kairn in peril/danger, but... the fact remains: if you need to create a contrivance to make a character's poor decision seem like a “good” or "bad" one in hindsight, then it's going to come across as, well, a contrivance. Forced. You can literally hear the author saying, "I told you so"--the one phrase that grinds every partner's gears more than any other phrase.
Anyway, this book is actually pretty good, especially in the very beginning and in the very end. The marathon in the middle with all the constant, explicit space sex, was a bit much for the story that's being told. What can we do but be brutally honest. There is enjoyment to be had in this book. And if you have a kink for some furry, fiercely-loyal male being constantly ready to have sex at the rate of a minigun, then this might actually be worth checking out. It might also be enjoyable to fans of sci-fi and alien invasion novels.
This book also has one of the coolest covers of the season—really putting across the Beauty & the Beast/Jekyll & Hyde imagery!
We look forward to the sequels. You can check it out here!