I discovered Heat thanks to a review posted at Dear Author. I was very intrigued by the plot, and I’m sure that everyone else who read that review was as well. This is a book that elicits reactions, they can be positive or negative, but no one can deny that it’s an eye-catching story. So I was presented with the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and I decided to take it.
This is a simple story set in a complex
world universe. Kane is a chemist and a pirate. His main business is a drug called Vahst, which he manufactures. Vahst’ main component is dopamine, a chemical that can be found in human’s brains. So Kane, his father and their crew, travel in search of buyers, using humans to harvest dopamine (the harvesting process is quite easy, just open their heads and rip the gland that produces the chemical) and also as slaves.
Humans were among the universe's most useful commodity. They were strong and resilient enough to make good laborers, yet small and weak enough to be easily controlled. They caught every damned disease that blew their way, but their bodies could be repaired practically by a whisper and a whim. They were short-lived, but they bred like a virus and the children learned faster than the adults. They got cold too fast, hot too fast, hungry every few hours, but their amazing little bodies could adapt to any imaginable climate or condition. You could work them, train them, sell them, cultivate poisons or medicines from their bodies, and, as old Uraktus had been fond of adding, you could eat them and fuck them, if you were desperate.
All of this comes to a halt when the intergalactic police apprehend him, killing his father and the crew in the process. Kane devises a plan to scape and reconstruct his business, a plan that involves a short stay in Earth in order to make enough Vahst to pay for a new ship and crew. So far his plan has been a success and he’s managed to escape and get to Earth, however, he’s about to run out of luck. Kane is a Jotan, their reproductive cycles are affected by heat. In the planet Jota the heat season lasts 9 days a year (Jotan days are shorter than ours), but during those days Jotan suffer from severe, almost paralyzing pain. The only way to release that pain is through sex, orgasm helps them recover but once heat strikes they need to mate again, and again. Unfortunately for Kane, he gets to a part of Earth that’s going through a very hot summer. Once Kane realizes that the heat won’t go away, he finds himself a woman so he can mate with her every time he needs it, and that’s how he “meets” Raven, a prostitute that has no other choice but to go with him and do as he says. And so it begins.
But wait! There’s more.
On the other side of the intergalactic law we have Tagen, the cop in charge of bringing Kane back to justice. He also goes to earth and is equally affected by heat. But Tagen chooses to deal with it in a different way. First, he has a number of heat suppressants, which will last him several days and will keep heat at bay; and second, he isn’t aware of how advanced humans are, the reports he has are from 500 years ago, and so he thinks humans are barbarians. It takes little time for him to realize that he is in over his head and that he also needs help. That’s how he “meets” Daria. He, unlike Kane, does not force her to do anything but give him shelter and help him learn English, but they become more and more involved with each other and his mission, which means that Tagen and Daria end up working together as reluctant partners.
This pretty much sets up the book, and once you see how long this thing is you are going to be amazed that I was able to explain it in a couple paragraphs (more like four). But this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
This book is basically the story of two very different aliens dealing with the same thing in very different ways. In fact, Kane and Tagen could be two sides of the same coin, with similar life stories that take dissimilar turns. Heat isn’t a good vs. evil story per se, but it is a story of good and evil. And you get to see how both sides react when presented with the same choices and situations.
My favorite part about this book was, hands down, the depiction of cultural shock. I have never read an “aliens invade” story that handles that aspect so well. Jotans and humans have many things in common, but also many differences. Both Kane and Tagen have certain knowledge of human culture, Kane more than Tagen, but this is the first time they find themselves in the position to actually put that knowledge to practice. And the result is interesting, hilarious and even realistic –or as realistic as Sci-Fi story can be-. Most of the book is about the aliens adapting, learning and readjusting their previous knowledge to fit this new reality.
Half by reason, half by guess, he pulled at a steel knob that protruded over a bowl-shaped indentation in the counter, and water flowed from a control arm beside it. Hidden pipework. Plumbing. With a shock, Tagen realized he was standing in a human bathing room, and that it was the same room they used for a privy. He had never seen anything so unsanitary in his entire life, not even in smuggler's dens or Kevrian slave pits.
Heat is a story about aliens in an alien place, behaving like they are the only thing right in a place where everything else is wrong.
She opened her mouth several times before she managed to ask the question that had been gnawing at her.
"Are you an alien?"
"Am I--?" Surprise smoothed the anger out of him, and made his hard features seem somehow younger. A thin smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, exposing the tips of some very sharp teeth.
"No," Tagen said. "You are."
Everything in this book is shown, there’s no info-dumping whatsoever. You need to read the book and pay attention for the little tidbits of information. How do Jotans look like? You will find out, a little at a time, throughout the book. Same applies to how their planet looks, and how their society works.
The heroines of the story are just as different from each other as Kane and Tagen are, and Raven was by far the more interesting of the two. She came across as a young woman that was a bit lost. Her relationship with Kane was that of master and slave, and to be honest, it remained that way until the end. Kane ends up appreciating her some, mostly because she is useful in more ways than just as a sex slave, but that was pretty much it. I do not think theirs was a love story, you may stretch it and call it an unconventional romance, but to me it wasn’t like that at all. Daria, on the other hand, was just your good old romance heroine, she was a bit damaged and Tagen is the hero who saves her. She saves him as well, and their relationship was more balanced, in fact, Tagen would’ve been lost without her because he was pretty much useless. He wasn’t prepared for Earth and it almost kills him.
The ending was the weakest part. The suspense and the angst grow exponentially the closer you get to the end, but the actual resolution felt anticlimactic. I won’t go into details because I admit that the last 20% was the best part, but I was a bit disappointed.
The story is filled with violence and rape. Kane doesn’t consider humans his equals, he sees them as slaves, as animals, as commodities. They serve a purpose and don’t inspire remorse or second thoughts, there’s a clear separation between him and humans, the others. At times they can be amusing and useful, but that’s about it. At first, Kane can’t even tell whether they are male or female, he actually needs to check their genitals, just like we do with animals. This book is very graphic, I haven’t read anything like it before and I’m not sure I was ready to do it now. I came this close to DNFing it twice because it was making me sick, there are two scenes that are particularly bad. I’m not exaggerating, even if you think you may stomach it, chances are that you won’t. It’s that awful. None of it is gratuitous and I don’t think the rape is portrayed in an erotic way. Sex for these aliens is different than for humans, is more of a necessity than anything else, they get pleasure from it, but not emotion. I’m not trying to defend the rape scenes, but they were there to serve a purpose and not just for shock value (well, maybe a little bit for shock value), rape is there to show how non-human Kane was, and how his cruelty came from a different place than that of a human, because there are some truly awful humans in this book and those were more shocking.
I don’t think this book will go well with most romance readers. Personally, I feel a bit wrong for liking the novel so much, but I will definitely read more by this author. The voice is incredible compelling, the book is long but it never drags, every single page is justified and all the scenes serve to enrich the story and move the plot forward.
Would I recommend this book to you? Only if I knew you very well, but since I don’t, I’ll just say that at times I loved it and at times I hated it. Download a sample and see how you like it, and if you do read it come back and let me know!
Review by Brie
Sensuality: McBurning. Actually, it deserves a whole new category, like McLava or McSurface-of-the-Sun. Graphic violence, graphic rape and graphic sex galore.
Earth. A world quarantined since its discovery by the Far-Reachers of Jota's history. And where the fortunes of slavers and chemists have been made ever since. It was to Earth that Kanetus E'Var, the son of Jota's most ruthless slaver, escaped to make Vahst, a powerful drug manufactured from the human brain. And it was to Earth that Tagen Pahnee, Fourth-ranking officer of the Jotan Off-World Security Fleet, was sent to bring the criminal back to justice. Neither of them could have anticipated that at that moment, E'Var's hunting grounds were experiencing the worst heat wave in years, triggering the Jotan breeding cycle in both males. Home is not an option for either of them. Both are determined to find a way to work on this hostile planet, surrounded by humans, surrounded by dangers, surrounded by Heat. Adult readers only, due to graphic gore, violence, and explicit sexual situations.
Heat by R. Lee Smith
A Red Hot Romance Books. January 21, 2009