Note: This book was previously published by Ellora’s Cave under the same title with the author’s pen name being Zannie Adams. This is the self-published version which has been “substantially revised and re-edited”.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Find the strongest man there. Give yourself to him in return for protection. It’s the only way you’ll ever survive.
Convicted of a minor crime, Riana is sentenced to a prison planet—a dark primitive hold filled with convicts vying for power. Her only chance of survival is with Cain, a mysterious loner who has won his territory in the prison through intelligence and brute strength. Sex is all she has to offer, so she uses it. She’s under no delusions here. No one is ever released, and no one ever escapes. Survival is all she can hope for—until Cain.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Set in a future dystopian world where the galaxy is ruled by a corrupt and somewhat amorphous “Coalition”, this novella certainly packs a punch. Thrust into a prison where there are no rules and it’s very much survival of the fittest, Riana gets a piece of advice by a sorta-friendly guard: “Find the strongest man there. Give yourself to him in return for protection.” The guards don’t really guard. They don’t spend time in the hold really. There is no patrol to keep order. They drop the prisoners in and that’s about it. Every day food gets dropped down a kind of chute and there is a fight to see who gets to eat and how much. Even though Riana is no pushover, she is no match for tens of males who forgot the rules ages ago. She might have been able to hold her own against one, maybe two, but not against all of them and not for long.
The likely candidate has a bit of a harem going and Riana doesn’t like him on sight. He’s a possibility though. She’s interested in survival not suicide. Even though she’s been sentenced to what amounts to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a very minor offence. There is only one sentence. Prison. There is nothing else on the end of it except a full stop.
She does see a man who has the only cell with bars on it – he can keep people out. It also has a private (kind of) toilet instead of the public facilities (not good facilities of course) that the rest of the prisoners have to share. He’s muscular and obviously strong enough to hold his cell from those who want to take it for themselves. And, he is alone. She chooses him. He is Cain. (I pictured a Vin Diesel/Riddick kind of guy.)
Initially it’s a transaction: sex in exchange for protection but gradually, it becomes more. At first (and this is fairly quick) it is physical but as the novella progresses, it is emotional too. The story is told only from Riana’s POV so Cain is a bit of a cipher. He doesn’t talk much and the reader is as baffled by him as Riana is.
I won’t spoil the ending other than to say that it is happy, if somewhat unlikely and serendipitous.
What else? The title is indicative of a number of different types of “hold”. The physical place, holding on – to self, to each other, to humanity, to “home”, to hope. Holding your space, holding the line. It’s not heavy handed at all but there is a theme of many kinds of holding and it was kind of fascinating as well.
The author did a great job of making this into a believable romance, of giving enough characterisation to Cain to make him a hero rather than a villain. He doesn’t talk much but what he says is powerful in it’s way. The sex was earthy and dirty and hot and, of necessity there’s a bit of exhibitionism in there too. It’s a short read (around 100 pages) but I liked it very much. If a reader can get behind the set up, it’s definitely worth the time.