REVIEW: Bring Me the Dead by Becky Black
A million years, ago a galactic empire fell. That ancient empire is a source of many things. Wonder, knowledge, academic careers, and treasure. Treasure is what Beau Johnson seeks, tracking down artifacts for high-paying clients. Once a top student at the specialist institute for the study of the ancient empire, Beau rejected respectable archaeology and academia in favor of adventure.
Unlike his one-time rival Park Ki-tae, a brilliant student who became an enforcement agent tasked with keeping Imperial artifacts out of private collections. Beau thinks Ki-tae needs to loosen up, have more fun, and stop making it his life’s work to send Beau to jail. Ki-tae thinks Beau is a rogue and a criminal, and that it was a big mistake to sleep with him that one time…
When a client sends Beau after a legendary artifact that allows communication with the dead, Ki-tae pursues, sure that this time he’ll nail Beau. But circumstances force them to work together and deal with the feelings for each other they’ve both long denied. They have very different plans for the artifact they’re seeking–if it’s not a myth. Will they ever agree on their plans, or on anything else at all?
Dear Becky Black,
As I’ve said quite a few times, I tend to gravitate towards M/M stories set in SFF or mystery setting. By now of course I’ve read quite a few good contemporary books but, if the story is a science fiction or mystery, it is always an extra attraction for me. The blurb of your book promised space opera and “from enemies to lovers” romance, so of course I one-clicked.
Let me say right away that, overall, I did like the story even if I had some issues. The major issue was a lack of world building. I would argue that on the macro level it was vague, almost nonexistent, thus readers should not expect to find themselves in a new and complex imaginary world. As the blurb states, the Empire fell approximately a hundred thousand years ago (I based this conclusion on a statement in the story that said the empire fell when the humanity was learning to throw rocks, or something like that). Maybe it fell further back in time to when the events in the story are taking place, or closer in time, I am not sure.
The Empire left behind many interesting artifacts on various planets and now artifact hunters collect them. The people who find the artifacts, which can be a very dangerous endeavor, can be arrested by government officials if the artifacts are protected or on behalf of collectors
Beau Johnson and Park Ki-tae were the students in the Institute together. Beau chose the life of artifact collector and Ki-tae chose life on the other side. In the very beginning Beau and his work partner Marz are offered a job by a very rich client for whom they worked previously. This client informs the pair that he has a lead on a famous artifact and he wants Beau and Marz to investigate this lead. The problem is that every collector, every artifact hunter, anyone who studied the Empire’s history, knows that such artifact does not exist. Or does it? If they find the supposedly non-existent Holy Grail of the Empire, the client offers Beau, Marz and their crew ten million dollars.
Beau comes from the one of the richest families on Earth. He really doesn’t need money, but he is tempted by the possibility to set his crew up for life and, of course, even if there is only a tiny chance that artifact is real he is tempted by that tiny chance. They decide to take the job.
A small complication to their mission is that Beau’s nemesis and former classmate Ki-tae, who now works for the Institute, has learned about the mission, and intends to arrest Beau. Beau and Ki-tae chose different sides of the barricade after graduation. They also slept together once a few years ago, but every time they see each other now they fight. I am rather conflicted as to how I feel about the execution of “from enemies to lovers” in this book. On one hand, the guys have understandable reasons to dislike each other as they are on different sides of legal artifact hunting. On the other hand, they are still attracted to one another, in a mutually angry way, and seem to realize that the attraction is part of the package.
I felt that both men were aware of this attraction and tried to fight it (kind of tried, anyway) for some time. What was missing for me was that pretty quickly I decided that the reason for them being on different sides of the barricade was not all that convincing. Beau and Marz and their small crew collect artifacts and rich collectors pay them money to go on adventures and risk their lives. The Institute, as a government institution, seems to feel that protected artifacts need to on display for everybody to see or the private collectors should at least loan them to the Institute for research.
I guess I just wanted to ask Ki-tae, objectively, what was Beau doing that was so bad? The Institute wants to study something that private collector got their hands on first? Go talk to this collector and negotiate, pay them a fee for studying the item they procured. I didn’t get the impression that Beau and company were thieves. I have no problem with fictional thieves, by the way, if I like the characters and their motives, but was Beau actually stealing? It was not clear. And mind you, what does it mean that the artifact is protected? Is there a law that forbids private collectors to take those? If such law existed, I could at least understand why Ki-tae wanted to place Beau under arrest. Once again, I was not sure. And the ancient artifact Beau was trying to find in this story was not protected because how can one protect something that does not exist and the official story was that it did not exist.
What I saw in Beau was a modern Indiana Jones (I only make this comparison because he was finding interesting things – I watched the movies years ago and don’t remember the plot), who was born to a life of privilege (his Grandma was the US president at some point). He seemed like a decent guy who cared about his partner and his employees and who cared about Ki-tae a whole lot, their mutual snarling notwithstanding.
By the way I do not blame Ki-tae for disliking Beau in the story, I just didn’t think that the author went into enough much depth to tell me why. She probably meant to portray him and his team as the law breakers, I just wish I knew which laws they were breaking
I felt like I spent a lot of time criticizing the world building as I read, but when the adventure started I thought it was a lot of fun. The characters faced some serious danger, they learned some things about themselves and, at the end, I liked both men better than I liked them at the beginning of the story. To me this usually means that both of them grew up at least a little bit and I liked that. I also appreciated that most of the sex scenes did not interrupt the flow of the story and happened at times when the characters were not in mortal danger, because I hate when the mortal danger is put on hold. I mean I think one scene was pushing it, but I could still buy that when they knew that the bad guy would board their ship several hours later they would have plenty of time to get some sex in before they died. A stretch, but possible if you ask me.
What I also appreciated very much was the ending. For me it was strong HFN in their personal lives, but in their professional lives we leave the guys as they are about to face some pretty serious repercussions for the events that took place earlier in the book. I liked that it was not an ending with the neat bow.
Grade : B-