REVIEW: Specimen by Shay Savage
*Dear reader, skip this entire review if spoilers drive you crazy. Read the book first, then come back and join in the comments. There are so many spoilers here it is impossible for me to parse them all. There will be an intense discussion of the end of this book, this can’t be avoided.
Dear Ms. Savage,
I was thrilled when I saw on Facebook that you had a new SFR release, Specimen. Dear God, when I read the blurb and discovered it was a post-apocalyptic romance about a super soldier and the doctor he falls in love with—I couldn’t one click fast enough!
I awaken in a laboratory.
I don’t know who I am.
I’m inexplicably drawn to the doctor who cares for me. She tells me I’ve been altered, that I’m stronger and faster, that I’ll be a key component in a war between corporations. She says I volunteered for this. She says I volunteered to be transformed, but I have no way of knowing if what she says is true.
Something isn’t right. My memories have been taken, wiped clean, but dreams begin to slip into my conscious mind. I can’t let anyone know when that happens, or they’ll remove my memories again. Somewhere inside of me, I know I need to remember something important.
I’m fighting a war I don’t understand, and the one woman I rely on can’t be trusted.
I’ve read several of your previous books and I’m a huge fangirl of your fresh/original storytelling and your spot-on portrayal of the hero’s pov. I thought your caveman hero romance, Transcendence, was one of the best books I read in 2014 (see the comments section of Jayne’s review for my fangirl squee). So I was happy to see from the blurb for Specimen this book was also written in the first person, hero’s pov. Transcendence and Surviving Raine were both in hero’s pov and wonderful, so I knew with you, there’d be no worries, I’d be in good hands.
Specimen is a fast paced, action filled joy ride that is part futuristic post apoc, part super soldier romance. I really enjoyed being in the hero’s head, learning about the heroine only through their interactions. The story is emotionally intense with lots of romance and hot, hot sex, which I loved. The plot is complex and very cinematic in its scope. I really enjoy erotic sci fi that is smart, character driven and romantic. This is my catnip. Thank you for this trifecta of all the things I love. Prior to the end, I was really enjoying this book and looking forward to whole-heartedly recommending it to anyone who would listen. Except…
Readers need to know that there is the possibility that the HEA of this book will be unsatisfying and in fact can easily be termed as not having an HEA at all.
I was enjoying this book so much, until I hit a wall at the end. At 93% I felt excitement, “Wow, I have no idea how this author is going to pull off this HEA.” Which is always a terrific feeling. I admire authors who can keep me guessing until the end. I adore heart pounding conflict, the stakes being raised, and a hard earned HEA as much as the next romance reader so this ‘down to the wire’ HEA was okay with me. I figured everything could be wrapped up with a sappy epilogue and I’d be happy, happy, happy. But at 97% all still seemed lost for this couple and I began to worry, I had a moment of doubt—Isn’t this book going to have an HEA? But I was like, “This is a romance, of course it’s going to have an HEA!” And then it ended with the hero dying and the heroine being dragged off by the bad guys who were going to do terrible things to her. And—That was the end. The. End. Seriously. I was like, WHERE THE F@#K IS MY HEA?!
Wait, there was still the epilogue to be read. I took deep breaths, trying to calm myself, thinking maybe this could still be fixed. Nope. Oh, the epilogue…the epilogue is a repeat of the first chapter, letting the reader know the story restarts. Apparently, this was the surprise that had been hinted at in the first couple of reviews I read on Goodreads before going in…Come on GR reviewers, how about a little more clarification? I thought they were referring to a twisty plot point that made me want to read more, not a reneging of the HEA itself. And Ms. Savage, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a hint of this fuzzy HEA on the blurb. I thought I was going in for a genre romance with a clearly defined HEA. This wasn’t that at all. Wtf?
You had to have known that many of your readers would be having a Holy Shit moment when they got to the end of the book so you included this as an afterword:
My team had a lot to say about whether or not this story ends with a Happily Ever After. I say it’s subjective. Galen and Riley are together. They are, and will always be, in love. They exist in a constant and potentially never-ending cycle of rediscovering one another. In that way, their love is always fresh and new.
I see where you are going with this, but I still call bullshit (in the most respectful way). Let’s look at it this way—even in the movie Live, Die, Repeat, the couple had a clearly defined HEA. They were also stuck in a cyclical story line where the ending continuously resulted in destruction, but each time they learned from the last go around in order to improve the chances of an eventual HEA, and in the end they got that HEA. In Specimen the couple is stuck in a loop where they fall in love but never get to the HEA. This is an important distinction. In lots of books that are not genre romance there are couples who fall in love and we are right there with them and it’s engrossing and beautiful, but what distinguishes these “love stories” from true genre romance is the HEA. Romance readers of course want the falling in love part, but equally important to us is getting to the end and knowing that this love will survive- as in the couple (or triad, whatever) will remain together, get to plan a future together, possibly grow old together. But Galen and Riley are forever stuck in courtship. And I’m left knowing that again, and again they will have to suffer the pain of being torn apart. How is that a satisfying ending?
This HEA can be easily debated. Is it really just a cyclical HFN? Is it in fact an HEA because they are still “together”? To answer these questions I have to go with my gut reaction after I finished the book: me pacing in the kitchen, ranting to my husband and sitting down to immediately write this review, all because the ending left me anxious and unsatisfied.
I was planning on giving this book a B+, but the “surprise” ending sucked out much of my enjoyment, I’d give it a C- (and I feel I’m being generous here).
Ms. Savage, despite my strong words on this subject I still admire your bold and original storylines. I still respect the hell out of the books that you take the chance to write even though you must know the risk involved. This book completely worked for me right up until the end because I can’t help it, the Happily Ever After is the hill I’m willing to die on.