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Saronna's Gift by Carmen Webster Buxton

Saronna's Gift

by Carmen Webster Buxton

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Disclaimer: The author offered me a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. She has commented on a few of my reviews in the past, but we don't otherwise know each other.

The other books by Buxton that I've read were all marketed as sci-fi, although they all had some romantic elements. I was interested to see what Saronna's Gift, her first book marketed as sci-fi romance, would be like.

This book takes place on Krueger's World, which was colonized by Adolph Krueger. Krueger started off as leader of a fundamentalist Christian group and, from there, sort of became the head of his own cult. The people of Krueger's World rejected a lot of Earth history, technology, science, and medicine. Women basically became property – if it wasn't possible to marry them off, their patriarchs could sell them. If I remember correctly, men could only have one wife, but they were permitted, even encouraged, to have multiple women.

When we first meet Saronna, her father is taking her to the off-world quarter to meet Vladimir Trushenko, a prospective buyer. To Saronna's dismay, the sale goes through, and she learns that Vladimir intends for her to be his son Duncan's woman. Just one thing: Vladimir didn't bother to tell Duncan about all of this. Duncan is horrified to learn that his father bought another human being for him, and learning that Vladimir primarily intended Saronna to be company for Naomi, his native girlfriend (sort of – it's complicated), only mollifies him a little. Since he can't send Saronna back to her family without risking that she'd be punished, he tells her she can stay as long as she wishes and he won't ask anything of her. She can leave anytime she likes, and he'll even help her get the education she'd need in order to live independently among off-worlders. This is all well and good until the two begin to fall for each other.

This was a risky premise for a romance, to say the least. According to the laws of Krueger's World, Duncan owned Saronna, whether he wanted to think of it like that or not. He assumed that the signs Saronna liked and was attracted to him were real, but, for all he knew, she could have been faking it so as to keep her protector/owner happy. Could a believable, non-icky romance actually develop in this situation?

There were some promising initial signs. I liked that Duncan recognized that telling Saronna she could leave his household anytime she wished wouldn't mean much if she didn't have a proper education. Also, he didn't force her to learn things she might consider to be heretical. Instead, he gave her options. After he found out she could read, he gave her access to his family's library, recommended a few books to her, and told her he'd hire a tutor if she wanted one. Saronna was unusual for a woman of Krueger's World, and she adapted to her new life fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, there were a couple times late in the book when Duncan let his own hurt pride/feelings trump Saronna and her situation. When Duncan finally realized that Saronna had telekinetic powers and had probably been using them against him (reducing his arousal), instead of actually talking to her about it, he took an aphrodisiac and made her think he intended to enforce his rights as her owner and rape her. Even if he'd had no intention of going through with it, she didn't know that. His behavior was so awful that I was stunned.

He did admit that what he'd done was wrong, but I didn't like the way his actions were presented as being on the same level as Saronna's. Yes, she telekinetically manipulated his body without his knowledge or consent, but it was literally her only protective measure in a world where men were legally permitted to rape their women. Duncan wasn't a native of Krueger's World and didn't think the same way they did, but he kept forgetting that Saronna's worldview might not be the same as his.

Later on, Duncan screwed up yet again when he learned about the secret women's religion that prompted Saronna to keep him at a distance even though she cared for him. Once again, instead of sitting down and talking to her about it, he let his hurt pride dictate his actions, barged into her room, and searched through her things as she shouted at him to stop. I admit, I had little sympathy when, after that, he nearly drank himself to death.

I found Vladimir to be more appealing than Duncan. He was just as dense about certain aspects of Krueger's World, but he was also far less likely to allow his emotions to rule his actions. His relationship with Naomi, a native woman he purchased several years before Saronna to save her from being traded by her husband in a card game, was surprisingly sweet. Although their relationship was very much secondary to Duncan and Saronna's, I enjoyed the way the story examined and addressed the disconnect between his viewpoint as a ThreeCon man and her viewpoint as a Krueger's World woman.

In general, I liked the women in this book. Saronna was strong and soaked up the new knowledge she gained in the Trushenko household like a sponge. Naomi was more of a traditional Krueger's World woman, but I found myself caring about her enough to fret over the situation between her and Vladimir and to wish he could see the world through her eyes for a bit. Vonda, Duncan's mother, was brittle and a little mean to everyone but Duncan, and for some reason I liked that about her. The bit where Saronna verbally fought back against her was great.

All in all, the sociological stuff was fascinating, but unfortunately I ended up liking the secondary romance between the book's more mature characters than the primary romance between the book's younger characters. I liked Saronna, but Duncan had some maturing to do before he was ready to be a decent romance novel hero.

Rating Note:

My notes for this book give it a rating of C-/C/C+, which is anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 stars. Had it not been for the scene were Duncan acted like he was going to rape Saronna in order to trick her into demonstrating her powers, I'd probably have settled on 3.5 stars, because everything else worked pretty well for me.

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Apr 19, 2015 |
This novel takes place in Buxton's ThreeCon universe, and is a science fiction romance novel with intercultural misunderstandings and secrets complicating the couple's relationship. The action takes place on Krueger's World, a planet named for the leader of a group of conservative Christians who settled the planet long before. I presume that they see themselves as the New Israel, and have created an ersatz Eternal Israel by reading the Hebrew scriptures without any sense of historical context, and with a very strong patriarchy. They have declined ThreeCon's overtures, except to allow for a trading zone of ThreeCon citizens who want to take advantage of the planet's favorable location as a transshipment point, and as a tax dodge. (I will say, parenthetically, that I don't care for people who live abroad for tax reasons, but expect their citizenship to entitle them to call in the calvary when they get into trouble.) But I digress.

Among these is Vladimir Trushenko, CEO of the Cameron Trushenko company. Vladimir is living happily with his beautiful Kreugerian concubine, Naomi, while his estranged archeologist wife is off anywhere else. Their marriage was arranged, and it has been a financial success if a personal disaster – but both partners are happy as long as they are spending their riches on separate planets. Naomi is lonely, and so Vladimir purchases another Kreugerian woman, Saronna, as a companion, nominally a concubine for his soon-to-return son, Duncan. If nothing else, she is a hint to Duncan that his parents are anxiously awaiting grandchildren. Vladimir means well, he purposely buys a woman who is an elderly spinster in her early twenties, figuring that he is saving her from an awkward situation. Her father has equally mixed reasons for selling her to an off-worlder.

Duncan and Saronna hit it off, and true love seems in the offing after a leisurely courtship in their luxurious off-worlders' quarter, but the situation destabilizes the seemingly happy and peaceful lives of the people around them. Everyone means well, everyone is acting according to their notions of honorable behavior, but the situation soon reveals the fault lines of assumptions, misinterpretations, and cultural clashes that create havoc. Kreugerian culture is more complex than the outsiders understood. Duncan's involvement with Saronna and his family involves him in a potentially deadly feud, and by the end of the book, the Trushenko's might as well have an ambulance idling outside the house. Saronna has to decide if she has to honor her hereditary obligations, and how to do this and enjoy her love with Duncan. The ending resolving romantic conflicts heighten's social and political ones. I wonder if there is going to be a sequel following up on the later consequences. The problem with romances is that one gets to love the characters, but it is difficult to have a romantic series and stay with the same people. As we have seen in history, a simple desire to trade, an intention to lead parallel lives rarely turns out to be simple.

ThreeCon refers to the Third Confederation of Planets, which one might liken to the present day liberal democracies or the European Union. In this universe, human being long since spread out on a variety of planets which have formed confederations that have dissolved. The highly advanced ThreeCon seeks out other human worlds and offers them membership and technological assistance, but allows them to refuse. If the world declines membership, but allows some sort of diplomatic contact, ThreeCon has the muscle to protect its citizens, but generally does not interfere in the affairs of the other world (except for a little covert interference from time to time.)

I want to state that I do know Carmen, but I wouldn't review her books if I didn't enjoy them. ( )
  juglicerr | Feb 11, 2015 |
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A warm summer breeze caught Saronna's veil and almost pulled it loose.
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Saronna Maynard never expected to be sold into an off-world household, anymore than Duncan Trushenko expected to return from a business trip to find that his father had bought a companion for him. Saronna is grateful, in many ways. Her new protector is too horrified by the customs of Krueger’s World to wonder why her father could never find a husband for her. And off-worlders don’t believe in witches. The more time Saronna spends with Duncan, the harder it is for her to believe all men are as evil as her mother taught her. But safer or not, Saronna is still intent on keeping her secrets. After all, she’s still on Krueger’s World.

[retrieved 1/12/2015 from Amazon.com]
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