Marc reviews ‘Skythane’ (Oberon #1) by J. Scott Coatsworth. The book was released by Dreamspinner Press on February 17th, 2017 and is about 244 pages long.
Why I read this book: When I had the opportunity to get a review copy of this book, the title seemed very interesting and I finally wanted to read a story by the author. Since I love scifi and fantasy, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Jameson Havercamp, a psych from a conservative religious colony, has come to Oberon–unique among the Common Worlds–in search of a rare substance called pith. He’s guided through the wilds on his quest by Xander Kinnson, a handsome, cocky skythane with a troubled past.
Neither knows that Oberon is facing imminent destruction. Even as the world starts to fall apart around them, they have no idea what’s coming–or the bond that will develop between them as they race to avert a cataclysm.
Together, they will journey to uncover the secrets of this strange and singular world, even as it takes them beyond the bounds of reality itself to discover what truly binds them together.
This was a very difficult review for me to write, even though I have a lot to say about Skythane, the first full-length novel of author J. Scott Coatsworth. Sometimes a book makes you think so much about the amazing world it draws you into that it becomes difficult to put into words what you experienced. That’s what happened to me with this book in the beginning. I hope I have found the right words now to share with you my personal experience of reading this book, so you can determine if the book might be for you as well. For me this story is a classic hero’s journey through a unique and original world that is brought to life by the author with richly detailed descriptions and interesting characters. J. Scott Coatsworth has done a lot for the visibility of scifi, fantasy & romance stories with LGBTQ+ main protagonists through his Queer SciFi & Queer Romance websites and his passionate love for these genres is very apparent in this book.
Let’s start at the beginning. Skythane is very scifi-esque as titles go, it is mysterious, strange, alien. Something to do with the sky. Before the story began, the author reveals that the original title of the story was Oberon, which I really would have liked, too. That title is a clear reference to the king of the fairies and feels more fantasy-esque. It makes me think of a magical forest and magical creatures. Interestingly, both of these titles fit the book really well and highlight a different aspect of the story. I’m glad that ‘Oberon’ is now the name of the series 🙂
The book cover is a sexy collage of a nude male model surrounded by a world seen from space, wings (that don’t quite look like they are his) and scifi-esque spheres that might be space stations. It screems scifi romance to me and is appealing, but it is also not ‘special’.
This is a scifi story first and foremost. While there are people with wings who look like angels in the book, they are an alien race and not actual angels as we usually understand them. In the beginning readers are thrown right into the middle of a futuristic city on a different planet and I was reminded of the movie Blade Runner. There is the same kind of gritty reality, where some people strongly benefit from the highly advanced technology and some poor souls suffer for the riches of others. The city seems dark and brutal and has its own language with words I did not always understand, even in context (though there is a glossary at the end of the book). It really did feel like I was on a different planet and I love some of the imaginative technological devices and practices the author came up with.
It is easy to see how technology we have today is the inspiration for some of the tech in the story, which makes it seem more authentic and realistic. There are people in our time, who have started to use implants to ‘upgrade’ their own body, so they can swipe their hand through a scanner to pay or use their implants to enter their house or access their computer or smart phone securely. The technology for this exists and there are people who want to use it, even though it sounds quite scary, exotic and weird to me. However, it does seem believable to me that in a big city in the future, people would pay their credits and be connected to a virtual PA and ‘the grid’ with an implant.
I love when real science is used as foundation for realistic fiction.
Though I also love the concept of a world that seems to be cut in half and still exists without collapsing. It causes very extreme weather, especially on the ‘split’, where miners are harvesting the exposed natural resources in very dangerous working conditions. The situation of the planet seems very unique and original, but for me how people use the situation to their own advantage and use other people and natural resources for their own profit makes it feel very realistic.
I imagined the city as an awe inspiring place with buildings that are 200 floors high, hovercrafts, winged people and advanced tech. As someone fascinated with big cities and technology, it is a very interesting place that the author brought to life in this book. It is also a very dark and gritty place, though. The author did not shy away from including darker themes like human trafficking and sexual abuse and drug trade. Not everyone is profiting from the advanced technology. There are many people like Xander, who have experienced the terrible poverty in the city and know the dark side of Oberon.
However, later in the story, there do seem to be mysterious and seemingly magical creatures and events that give this story a fantasy feel as well. Once the action moves from the technologically advanced city to the alien wilderness, the story has a very different tone. Readers get to explore all the different parts of the alien world, even those that we do not know exist in the beginning.
The outer lands are a clear contrast to the big city, but whether people live with advanced technology or not, there are always natural and ‘human’ dangers that threaten the peace. Again, the author uses a lot of details to make these regions come to life. Readers are introduced to exotic plants and animals and can discover a lot more about the planet, the Skythane, who they really are and what really happened to the world along with Xander and Jameson.
There are three main protagonists in the story. Quince is a mysterious skythane woman (a humanoid race with wings) who seems to know a lot more than she is saying and is following a plan that has been in the making for a long time. Xander is also skythane and survived a terrible past that included losing his parents, living on the streets and sexual abuse. Jameson had a rather quiet and comfortable life, but he had to hide a part of himself from his conservative parents and is set to marry a woman he likes, but does not love.
The stakes for this book are very high. It starts with high-speed chases and shoot-outs, where Quince, Xander and Jameson have to fight for their lives. They are being hunted and have to evade capture and death, all while surviving in a harsh alien wilderness. On top of that, Xander and Jameson soon learn it is their destiny to save the world and the time is already running away from them. Their lives so far were a lie and they not only have to prevent the imminent destruction of Oberon, but also discover who they really are. Their journey is one of self discovery and opens a completely new world in front of them, gives them a big mystery to solve and puts the responsibility to save everyone on their shoulders.
During that entire journey, the two young men not only learn more about themselves, but also get closer to each other. The romance between Xander and Jameson is a very important part of the book. The way they have to fight for their lives and how their destinies are entangled push them together. While they started out slightly antagonistic, the tension between them soon heats up and their chemistry is burning hot – even without explicit sex scenes.
There is also a lesbian romance in this book and I loved that it was included, even though it is not a major focus of the book (but very important for everything that happens non-the-less).
There is also a major cliffhanger at the end. Well, at least for me it is. In a recent discussion, I have learned that quite a few of my friends in this genre only consider it a cliffhanger, if the main protagonists are left in mortal danger (left dangling from the proverbial cliff) – and that is certainly not the case here. Personally, given that main characters are usually quite save, other kind of game changing reveals are usually much more interesting to me. You can expect the MCs to make it out of all the dangerous situations alive and for their love to be intact. The story arc of their journey to save the world will come to a satisfying conclusion – for now – and all seems well. However, there is an epilogue that is quite the game changer for the story and made me very excited to read the next book. It is a major teaser for what will happen next and foreshadows new challenges and opportunities for the characters we have come to care for at the end of book one. I love such cliffhangers and I will theorize what the last chapter might mean for the rest of the series. It will make the anticipation of the next book much sweeter for me. However, if you do not like cliffhangers, you can simply save the epilogue for when book two is out.
I can strongly recommend this book to all who love scifi, fantasy and romance. All three aspects are combined in a wonderful way and while it took me a bit to get into the story, it was worth it to wait until the book had drawn me in. Reading this book felt like traveling to a different planet – a place the author brought to life with beautiful and rich descriptions of a futuristic city with advanced technology and an alien wilderness with strange and sometimes dangerous plants and animals. This includes a new terminology for alien and futuristic things. While they made it more difficult for me to get into the story in the beginning, they were the reason why I felt so completely drawn into the story later on.
Rating: 9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommendation) – Compares to 4.5 Stars
Scott lives between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.