Tour’s Books Blog

June 1, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Zoë’s Gift by Jory Strong (erotic romance)

Jory Strong returns to the series that made her name in the paranormal erotic romance field, the Fallon Mates, for another story along the lines of Zerrac’s Miracle with Zoë’s Gift.  It’s rather angsty for me, as was Zerrac’s Miracle, but totally in keeping with the overall storyline of the series.

Kaylee Ripa, the once desperately ill daughter of Ariel, now lives on Beliziar with her mother and her two new fathers, Zeraac and Komet, cured by the healers of the Amato people.  (Their story is told in Zeraac’s Miracle.)  Beliziar has two races, the Vesti and Amato.  Both are descended from the Fallon, a race that traveled between worlds, many settling elsewhere, including Earth.  The Vesti were darker skinned and had leathery wings while the Amato were very fair and mostly white feathered wings.  In earlier times, they would have easily posed for demons and angels.  The Amato were more religious, but have a rather easy going view of sex, joining in whatever combinations they found suited them.  The Vesti are not religious, but are very conservative and believe in one male, one female unions.  Vesti are given to mating fever and extend fangs that inject their mate with a serum that helps them track them.

Michah d’Vesti is a member of the governing council of Beliziar.  A virus deliberately designed to cause sterility among the females of both races was introduced by another space faring race Hotaling who covet the Ylan stones that all of the Vesti and Amato wear in their wrist bands.  The stones were never traded or sold and removed from Beliziar, other than on the arms of its inhabitants.  The Hoatling refused to believe the stones had no power off Beliziar unless worn by one of their race.  They infected popular sex toys they sold with a particularly vicious virus and in no time, it spread leaving some dead, many miscarriages and a sterile population of females.  Some males were also rendered sterile.  The Hotaling claimed to have an antidote, but it didn’t matter, the Ylan stones could not be used by them.  Not even the Vesti and Amato fully understand the power and working of the stones.

In a desperate race to ensure the survival of their people, the Amato and Vesti scientists began hunting for cures and alternatives, like matches with descendants of the Fallon on other worlds.  By accident, it was discovered that when one male of each race, one Vesti and one Amato coupled with the same human woman who carried the Fallon gene, she could become pregnant.  So far the few human women in these relationships were pregnant with twins and both races awaited the first birth.  While this gave hope to the males for off-spring, the women of Beliziar were still without hope.

The scientists sought male volunteers for matching to potential human mates.  The males were slow in coming forth.  The races had different views on sex and religion.  Miciah d’Vesti could have fought Zeraac’s claim on Ariel as he too was a genetic match and not sterile, but he voted to let the bonding stand.  The appearance of her daughter, Kaylee, in his office is a surprise, but her purpose is a shock.  Her mother had a half sister, Zoë Andreadis, who is a match for him and an Amato – Iden, a priest of the Amato, and a man to whom Miciah has long been sexually attracted, an attraction he refuses to acknowledge much less act on.  But they are both a match for Zoë and Miciah will have no one else as his co-mate.  Iden presses to see if Miciah will accept all it means if they become co-mates and with some reservations he agrees if their mate finds it acceptable.

Zoë Andreadis has lived her life on the road, always wandering, never anywhere for long.  She does freelance photography and travel writing and spends time with her friends who, like her, seem to have special ‘gifts’.  She’s an empath with some gift as a seer as well.  She been dreaming of two men, her lovers, and waking sweaty and sated.  Her friend Destiny reads her tea leaves makes her feel like these men are her future.

Business is booming at May’s Trash and Treasures thanks to a mention in one of Zoë articles.  May has a gift for Zoë by way of thanks.  Two bracelets, one for each wrist, with what looks like butterflies and blue stones with black streaks.  Odd, she can’t seem to get them off.  Zoë packs up her camper, the only home she has, and heads to the Sol Celebration.

Iden and Miciah find themselves almost fighting off the advances of both men and women as they navigate the alley’s created by people gathered for the Celebration.  Iden’s thoughts on Miciah’s accepting his bi-sexuality are interrupted when they spot their mate.  The mating fever seizes them both and Zoë is a more than willing participant.  It seems she even enjoys some D/s elements in her sexual relationships.

They join quickly and easily convince her to go to their home with minimum information.  And in no time at all Zoë is on Beliziar – along with the chocolate ice cream that Kaylee asked Miciah to bring back.

The relationship between the three happens very fast and without hesitation on Zoë’s part.  She even asks if the two men are lovers.  (I wish someone would explain to me why women would want their partners to have sex with each other, because honestly, I don’t get it.  Obviously, I am in a minority as there are a staggering number of ménage stories that have this element.)  This gives Iden and Miciah the opportunity to begin exploring their attraction.

There is almost no opportunity for the three to begin a real relationship beyond sex when both Miciah and Iden are called away to handle business, Miciah for the governing council and Iden as a priest.  Thanks to the chocolate ice cream and Kaylee, Zoë and Ariel, the half sister she knew nothing of, meet and she has a chance to go to the market.  As they sit for a moment, Zoë is drawn to a Vesti woman who radiates despair that borders on suicide.  When they touch bracelets in the traditional greeting, a vision comes to them of a white haired showing them scenes on Earth where there is a child in need of rescue.  Breaking all kinds of laws, Zoë and Acacia take an unauthorized trip to Earth and bring back to Beliziar.

Her return to their home with the notorious Lyan d‘Vesti, has her mates in an uproar.  That night, at Zoë’s urging, the men finally start building their sexual bond with each other.   Miciah really struggles with it because such relationships are taboo for the Vesti and he would be an outcast among his own people should it become known.  Next day, in public, Miciah denies Iden the acknowledgement he wants as his lover, hurting and infuriating him.  The struggle between the two continues and Iden calls Miciah a “Coward”.  Zoë is approached by more women, making a total of 3 illegal forays to Earth before it becomes a public issue.

In each case, Ms. Strong takes an opportunity to show the pressing social issues that lead to abandoned and unwanted children in various countries.  This gives the taking of Earth children to Beliziar not kidnapping, but a kind of social work or child rescue plan.  Back on Beliziar, Miciah struggles knowing he hurt Iden and how to tell his parents about his bi-sexuality.  But the Council is turmoil and he fears what will happen should his relationship with Iden cost him his seat on it.

Eventually Miciah goes to his parents and is amazed to learn that he is not the first in his family.  His mother is supportive and feels it’s past time for the Vesti to be more accepting.  His father cannot accept it and effectively disowns him.  Iden, seeing the reaction in the marketplace when Miciah does acknowledge their relationship with a kiss, realizes just how much he has asked of the Vesti and just hw high a price the Vesti might pay.

There are a number of other issues not explored in the previous Fallon books that come into play here.  The fundamental inequity of a human woman’s commitment before knowing what all she is agreeing to.  The extreme difficulty that the presence of fertile human women with Fallon genes means to the now sterile and emotionally devastated women on Beliziar – the antagonism, the sense of uselessness watching their men celebrate and knowing they never will.  All the previous books but one sort of ignored the women and their plight and focused on the men finding and claiming human mates.

The story ends on an upbeat note with the birth of the first human/Amato/Vesti children.

I give Ms. Strong points for finally raising questions in Zoë’s Gift that have been plaguing me about this series, especially those regarding the fate of the Vesti and Amato women.  The social commentary on the ‘throw away’ children was conveniently self-serving for the abductions, but she did accurately frame some of the many problems facing even those with the best of intentions with that conversation between an American social worker and an Indian child care center that was already over-crowded.  These are difficult issues and ones not often seen in this type of book.  Next is the relative isolation of the human mates from the general populous, and the resentment of the Vesti and Amato women.  It was an artificial and ultimately untenable situation.  Finally is the rather belated scientific work or the possibilities for Vesti and Amato women paired with one human male and a second male of the other race on Beliziar.   Unfortunately, all of these issues got rather short shrift, though this is erotic romance and that they were mentioned at all was surprising.

Oddly, I was not deeply drawn to any of the protagonists.  Perhaps it’s my inability to identify the characters, Zoë was just too ‘new age free spirit’ and somehow she just never gelled into a thoughtful, intelligent person.  Beyond the whole ‘free-spirit’ thing, she didn’t seem to be much of anything other than a conduit, a catalyst, but not a driving force.   Miciah was the only one that I could understand and almost truly like, though he seemed a different person from the one portrayed in Zarrac’s Miracle.  Yes, he had issues, but his struggles with his internal conflicts were the only ones that seemed on solid ground and felt real.  He had to consider things beyond his personal preferences, things that had to do with the path to the future for their whole world and Iden was placing him in a position that might make him surrender his voice in the difficult decisions that needed to be made for all of Beliziar.  Iden didn’t realize he was asking far more of Miciah than Miciah asked of him, so in many ways, he seemed selfish, self-righteous and self-centered when it came to Miciah, however comforting and gentle he was as a priest.  He came off rather shallow and consumed more by his need for public acknowledgment than standing back and considering the bigger picture.  He did recognize this and apologized for how he acted, but I was left not liking him much.

I’d say there were more Fallon books in the future.

My Grade:  C+  (3.5*)

Who would enjoy this book:  Followers of the Fallon series, Jenny Penn’s Sea Island Wolves series and Lauren Dane’s Witches Knot series.  The rating for this book is xxx.

Available as an ebook at Ellora’s Cave.  Full novel length.

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