Warning: This is a book that’s hard to review and discuss all the interesting points it raises without giving away a little of the plot. Hopefully it’s no more than you could infer from the blurbs, but consider yourself warned.
Simon is just a few days away from finishing up his five year stint in the military. He joined up to provide money to his single mother and younger sister, so he’ll need to find some other work eventually, but for now he’s just missing his family and looking forward to spending time with them. One of his friends tells Simon about the lucrative job offers available from Maxim Colonies. With nothing better to do before his discharge, he looks at what’s available, but it’s not a mining tech position that catches his attention. Along with the ads for engineers and technicians there are also ads for what are effectively mail order brides, and one position features a lonely-looking pink alien. It’s not at all what Simon had in mind, but he finds himself drawn to the strange pink “woman” and their plight that requires his “services”. What Simon gets is far more than he bargained for.
Although essentially a science fiction story set far in the future, “Jailmates” contains a healthy bit of romance and mystery. The mystery portion is almost worthy of comparisons to Perry Mason (at the risk of dating myself with that reference), with its courtroom climax. The romance is unusual, to say the least, and raises a lot of interesting questions. Although it’s never quite put in so many words, Simon is literally prostituting himself to buy a better life for his family. He is not totally unaware of this, but chooses to ignore it because of what it will mean in the end for himself and his family. Of course, he also chooses not to completely educate himself about what he’s getting into, which leads to all sorts of complications.
This is one of those stories where the reader almost certainly will see the mistakes Simon is making long before he is forced to face them. You may even find yourself talking to the book, trying to get him to see the obvious. But in large part the drama turns on the way Simon deals with the hard facts of the situation, and the alien Mohrn to whom he’s been contracted. In truth, Simon is an entirely believable person. He’s the kind-hearted guy, despite his years in the military, who always wants to do the right thing.
When romance does bloom between Simon and Mohrn, that’s when the big questions really come into play. To enable Simon to “perform”, scientists have to alter his body, adding hormones, nano bots and other enhancements. So, are Simon’s feelings for Mohrn real, or just the effect of the changes made to his physiology? And what does Mohrn really feel for him?
All but a few final chapters are told from Simon’s point of view, so we get to know him quite well and he comes off as a completely real person that we can relate to. There’s a large set of secondary characters in the story, chief among them being the head scientist of the team modifying Simon’s body. Although we know from the blurb that Simon will sign the contract, nearly a third of the book is spent in a will-he or won’t-he internal debate. While this draws out the story a little, it does do a very good job of building the world in which Simon lives, and setting up some of the conflict that will happen later, even if Simon doesn’t see it.
I didn’t realize until after I finished this book that it was written by the same author as Acquainted with the Night, writing under a different name. While the overall plot of that book is significantly different, there are a few things in common, as well as some similarities in the details. If you liked the older book, you’ll probably like this one.
“Jailmates” is available from Amazon.