REVIEW: Song of the Navigator by Astrid Amara
Worst Possible Birthday: Being sold into slavery by none other than your lover.
Tover Duke’s rare ability to move anything instantly across light-years of space makes him a powerful, valuable asset to the Harmony Corporation, and a rock star among the people of the colonies. His life is luxurious. Safe. Routine.
He has his pick of casual hookups passing through Dadelus-Kaku Station. His one brush with danger of any kind—the only bright spot in his otherwise boring life—is Cruz Arcadio, a dark-haired, hard-bodied engineer whose physical prowess hints he’s something much more.
When a terrorist abducts Tover, hurling him into a world of torture, exploitation and betrayal, it’s with shattering disbelief that he realizes his kidnapper is none other than Cruz. As Tover struggles to find the courage to escape his bondage, he begins to understand the only way to free his body, his mind—and his heart—is to trust the one man who showed him that everything about his once-perfect life was a lie.
Warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence and assault. It also contains graphic sexual depictions. It also has a lot of birds. And pirate movies from the future. And romance.
Dear Astrid Amara,
I think you are a great writer, but your artistic choices do not always work for me. So when I saw the book being available for preorder on Amazon I was excited, but also worried – *very worried*. The blurb gives the main reason for my worrying. If one romantic lead in the book does something terrible to another character and the writer tries to justify it to me as “the reasons are good and noble and they will save mankind, so the other character should just learn the reasons and suck it up,” then I, to quote my fellow reviewer Kaetrin, tend to “get stabby”. I can get very stabby and bloodthirsty on behalf of the wronged character. The blurb describes a set-up which sounds suspiciously close to what usually invokes a strong negative reaction from me.
Of course I preordered the book anyway, because I love your writing. And then Ami at Booklikes gave your book a glowing review and after interrogating her about some spoilers I decided that I need to read them all and now. When I saw that the paperback was already available, I had no patience to wait till May 26 and bought it too. This review is based on the paperback copy.
Tover is a navigator; he moves people and cargo across time and space. His skills are so rare and so valuable that we are lead to believe there are only 3000 navigators across the whole Universe. Later we learn that there are only *forty two* navigators in the whole universe who are as sensitive to the vibrations that help them do their work as Tover is. He has luxury accommodations, a good salary, and everything is the best available, all from his employer, the “Harmony” corporation. As the blurb tells you, his life is a safe routine until his casual lover Cruz Arcadio kidnaps him one day and sells him to the pirates.
As much as I do not want to tell you spoilers, I have to share that Tover is physically abused at the hands of the pirates – chapters two through four are hard to read. There are graphic descriptions of physical violence, although there is no sexual violence, not at all. I also have to share that Cruz had reasons and he saves Tover from the pirates a month later, taking him to his home planet to recuperate.
I was so pleased with how the whole situation was handled. I was so happy that I did not have to look at the page and wonder why the guy who was betrayed so horribly by his lover suddenly forgot all that and everything is good because they are having amazing sex. Tover is angry, he is allowed to be angry and he is allowed to express his rage, as often as he wants to. In fact I was kind of amused that Tover did exactly what I imagined doing to Cruz after I have read the blurb.
“Rage roared through Tover. He grabbed the holoscreen between his legs and hurled it at Cruz’s head . It missed. Cruz said nothing.
Tover reached up and grabbed the first thing he found on the shelf above the bed, a basket, and flung it at him. Cruz ducked but the basket clipped him on the side of the head. Cruz frowned but he didn’t get up.
Fury and heartbreak coalesced into something irrational, and Tover started grabbing everything he could reach and hurled things at Cruz’s face. Cruz sat there, expressionless, dodging junk that crashed against the wall, against his chest and arms, the noise filling the darkening house.
Tover’s heart raced. An entire life had been born, aged and died since Tover was last alone with Cruz, and as Tover tossed items at Cruz’s head, the culmination of over a month of murderous rage filled him.
Tover picked up a gray-colored vase full of dried flowers and pulled his arm back to toss it. Cruz instantly animated, leaping out of his chair with his hand out, eyes wide.
“No! Don’t break that, my mother will kill me!”
It was also really important to me that Cruz did not leave Tover at the pirates’ hands to be abused. Yes, it was his fault, but because navigators are so valuable and precious he did not think that they would do anything to Tover except make him work as a navigator. But I really liked how Cruz, while wanting to explain his reasons to Tover, did not try to justify anything that happened to his lover and fully accepted the blame.
“Fuck you.” Tover shook his head. “Why help me now, after everything?”
Cruz did not answer for a long time, and when he did, he spoke quietly, his eyes a little glassy. “Because you are a rare, beautiful flower. And I crushed you under my boot”.
Now while I thought this was well said, be rest assured that Tover is no damsel in distress and he bears the hard circumstances which life threw at him with as much dignity and strength as he can master. Certainly he leads a privileged life because his talents are so rare, and he has to learn and change his perceptions about a lot of things, but he shows the ability to critically look at those things, even if they are not easy for him to accept right away. The worst blow to him was Cruz’ betrayal, because of course both men grew more than casually attached to each other during the beginning of their affair, before Cruz kidnapped him. I really liked the guy and wanted the very best for him. I liked Cruz too, I certainly did not expect being able to forgive him – and not because I thought his reasons were not good and noble. If I did not think his remorse was genuine, I could care less about his reasons – the history of the country I was born in taught me all too well where the revolutionaries with the best intentions usually end up on human rights; therefore, I only buy “saving the world” reasons when one tries to not drag people in the “happy future” against their wills. Cruz certainly tried hard not to do that and I appreciated that, because of course his world needed saving (reasons!) and I was glad that Tover learned to see that too.
These two were just so good together, I cherished every interaction between them – angry, happy, not so happy, them learning more about each other. I liked them and I ended up so happy and satisfied at the end.
The world building was wonderful – no information dumping at the beginning, everything was seen through the action, things were constantly happening and through that the reader learns more and more about the world. There were dark things happening but there was also this:
“Towards the bottom of the valley, Tover found hundreds of nests. Although they were predominantly on rocky outcroppings, several birds had theirs on the sloping ground, which suggested to Tover that they had few natural predators.
The birds watched as he approached but didn’t take flight, so he moved slowly and sat down on nearby rock, going very still. He paused a few feet from the nearest nest. He could see the birds up close now, and they were tremendous. They clearly got their name from their ridiculous beaks. Long and curved down at the peak, the beaks were a shocking pink in color. A knobby, yellowish protrusion between the eyes took up almost the same length as the beak. The birds’ feathers were bright, ruby red.”
Tover loved birds. How can you not like a character who can watch birds for hours?
There are some wonderful female characters in this book too, which I always like. In fact I liked everything about this book – a lot.
Oh, huzzah! I really like Amara’s prose, but I had the same reservations about the blurb that you did. I think our “HELL NO” buttons are very similar, so I’m going to trust you on this one.
@hapax: I bought it completely. It is so far hands down my favorite m/m book of the year and I think if DABWAHA was held now, this is the only book I would nominate. Hoping it will work for you too.
Ahhh! This sounds fantastic. I’ve never heard of this author before, but that excerpt you posted is hilarious and heartbreaking.
I have a huge weakness for heroes who fuckup badly. And dangerous situations. And good female characters. And no sexual assault! Is today my birthday? It must be.
Thank you for the review. Going to buy this immediately.
This sounds enticing! Thanks for the review.
I like Astrid Amara but I think I’ve only read her contemporary rom coms.
The blurb hit all of my nope buttons but your review intrigues me. I may try it.
Your review kind of reminds me of reading The Stolen Luck by Shawna Reppert. Different genre and set up (fantasy mm captivity/slavery) but it was another book with a set up I normally hate that I ended liking. Amazing what a good author can do.
@cleo: If you want to borrow the book let me know – as I mentioned in the review I purchased both kindle and paperback version and kindle version is lendable.
If it helps, there is no graphic violence descriptions at all after chapter four and yes, it is not how this set up usually handled in many mm books that I have read. I never heard of “The Stolen Luck” will check it out, thanks.
@Sirius: Wait, there is a gun fight in the middle of the book. But I think that’s it. There are couple of brief mentions of violence later on.
@Evelyn Elliott (ViridianChick): I like heroes who fuck up badly too, if they actually do something to make amends you know? I hope you end up liking the book.
@cleo: I have THE STOLEN LUCK in my monstrous TBR. I bought it on the strength of Reppert’s short story WE DON’T SERVE YOUR KIND. Sounds like I need to dust off the one and look at this new one. Thanks to you both.
Great review as usual, Sirius! I’ve only read Amara’s contemporaries too and was curious about this one, but not sure it was for me based on the blurb. Good to know it is!
FYI, for anyone with Scribd, this book and The Stolen Luck are both available. Unfortunately, Song of the Navigator is a pdf, which Samhain often seems to use, instead of the version (epub, maybe?) that allows you to increase the font, change the background color, etc. So, if you’re like me and like to read on your phone, your probably out of luck.
I wanted to wait to read your review before deciding to buy. But now: sold! :D
(I’ll also look up the other book Cleo mentioned too).
@Sirius – thanks, I’d like to take you up on that. Pls email me.
I do highly recommend The Stolen Luck although it’s probably not for everyone – here’s the review that inspired me to read it – http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/the-stolen-luck-by-shawna-reppert/
I just bought this this morning before I saw your review. I’m really excited about it now that I know how much you liked it since I usually like what you like.
@cleo: I did email you :). You can also tell me here if you want the book now (as in tonight), or late.
@Sirius: That was meant to be latER.
@Liz (Bugetta): Thanks! Scribd rocks :). I buy Amara’s books, but I will definitely check out “Stolen luck” there, because I never heard of the author before.
@Kim W: And I am starting to get worried :) in case everybody else will hate it. Fingers crossed.
Thank you for the review. On it’s strength, I bought this book and read it last night in one sitting. I’m glad I read it.
@Sirius: I bought it before your review so I can’t blame you if I don’t like it! I just started it so I’ll come back in a couple days and let you know.
@Kim W: oh I know . It’s just when I feel super enthusiastic about a book and in this case to such a degree that this is the best m/m thing I have read this year so far, I wonder if I should dampen my enthusiasm a bit you know? I guess I worry that too much enthusiasm may be too pushy? I don’t know. Definitely come back and let me know, really appreciate it.
@LauraB: oh thanks so much for letting me know :).
Well, I don’t have to tell you how I love the book, right? But I totally get the whole ‘dampen enthusiasm just in case’ situation. I hope more people reading this and enjoy it as much as you and I.
I just finished it and I really enjoyed it – I did kind of skip over the violence at the beginning and I inhaled the rest. I liked how Tover grew up during the story and how he slowly realized that everything he grew up believing was a lie.
Something about the ending left me slightly uneasy – I guess because it was obvious that Tover would never be completely safe and I worry about him getting involved in harebrained schemes like stealing ships, etc.
But overall, I just loved this book – thanks Sirius!
@cleo: thank you so much for letting me know. I did think that ending was a bit shaky in a sense that as you say Tover would never be completely safe, however i liked that. Societal issue which he is now involved in could not be resolved that fast so to me it made sense.
@Ami: agree of course :).
@Sirius: I thought it was excellent. I’ve been in a reading slump for almost the whole year now but this story completely held my interest. My quibble is that the ending was kind of rushed. I actually flipped back a bit to see if I missed something.
@Kim W: Thank you so much for letting me know, I really do appreciate it. As I said before when I feel so over the top in love with the book I really do worry if such enthusiasm may cause extra influence. So thank you, am pleased you liked it.
The review is unbiased I would say. A critical view of a real reviewer. Everything a reader should know before buying a book is here. The soul of the book and story is well illustrated.