Fighting Gravity is a science fiction romance that was sent to me for review from the author.
The Premise: (blurb from publisher) “When Jacob Dawes is Selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he’s catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob’s own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely, and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor’s heart, but it’s no protection when he’s accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves.”
My Thoughts: Told from the first person POV, this had the feel of a memoir. I couldn’t tell what prompted this introspection, but I saw the story as three parts: Jacob’s early years at the IIC, his relationship with the Emperor, and the fallout from that relationship.
Jacob Dawes starts off as an unclass in Mexico City. His father, an abusive drunk, was Resettled years ago, leaving Jacob (or Jake), his mentally ill mother, and his toddler sister to fend for themselves. When he’s eight-years old, Jake’s intellect gets him selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex (the IIC), so that he and a handful of genius children can serve the Emperor with their technological and intellectual advancements. It’s an honor to be chosen, but too poor to receive advance notice that this would happen, Jake is taken away from his family by unsympathetic servants of the Empire. At the IIC, his poverty and class keep working against him. He’s immediately singled out by the Director as a likely troublemaker and unworthy of being in the program at all. Shunned by many of the students and instructors, Jake struggles to prove himself, but he’s often the target of punishment and bullying. Eventually, he finds his niche in Physics under a kindly mentor, and after that he becomes a rising star with a series of breakthroughs under his name. By the time he’s fifteen, his advancements bring him to the attention of the young emperor, Rikhart IV, who is exactly Jake’s age. An unlikely relationship begins.
Jake and Peter (the Emperor) are on the exact opposite spectrum of the class ladder. At first Jake is in awe of Peter, but he quickly adjusts and sees Peter as another person – someone he likes. When Peter brings Jake along on a year-long tour of the Empire, the two have a chance to spend time alone. They begin a romantic relationship after an easy companionship (sex here is fade-to-black after some kissing and enthusiastic pushing). There’s not a lot of slow burn in their romance – their falling in love feels inevitable — but after they do, that’s where the drama really begins.
Class division is a big theme in this book. It’s clear from the start that although Fighting Gravity is set in a future where space travel is common, the social structure is traditional and hierarchical. While the Emperor has absolute power (so much so that the word “Emperor” is used in everyday phrases where we’d say “God”), merely being born as an unclass has made Jacob’s life a constant battle against the extreme bias of those around him. Jake resolves to be beyond reproach, he doesn’t always succeed, and his impulsiveness often overrules his self-preservation. His non-conformist attitude about class (reacting to the individual, not their status) is welcomed by some (such as the Emperor), but makes enemies of others.
I worried for Jake. He’s the underdog in Fighting Gravity, and while he is extraordinarily gifted, he’s also flawed. His biggest weaknesses involve impulsiveness and letting his anger overrule diplomacy. Jake sees how people react to his class, is annoyed, and just reacts instead of protecting himself and to soothing egos. He knows that the aristocrats have “quiet, unpleasant ends that didn’t involve petitioning committees” if they wanted to be rid of him, but he kicks the hornet nest anyway.
“Others may say what they think, but you cannot.”
“Oh no? And why’s that?” She heard the edge of anger in my voice because her eyebrow quirked.
“You know why. Because of what you are.”
The hot rush of anger spread from my head down through my fingers and toes. My fists clenched. “I thought you were different than them, Your Grace, but I guess I was wrong. I don’t get to have an opinion because I’m unclass? I should have known. You’re like the rest of them.”
The crack of her hand against my cheek left my jaw throbbing and my ears ringing.
“Stupid man. Yes, it is because you are unclass, and you know I do not think less of you for it. If I did, would I be trying to protect you?”
This was a character and relationship-centric story. A big pull of Fighting Gravity (once we’re past his time at the IIC), is the drama that unfolds from the volatile combination of Jake and his closeness to the Emperor. With Peter, who treats him as an equal, everything is wonderful, but that’s in private. In public, time and again, Jake just makes himself an easy target for others and makes decisions without telling his powerful lover. He gets threatened and tells no one, and then of course his enemies carry out their threats. I sped through the story in a matter of hours because I wanted to know whether Jake would be alright and if he could be happy with Peter. It was really frustrating though–Jake brought a lot of trouble on himself, but the hatred against him was unjustified too.
I really liked how much Jake’s class played a role in the story, but I also felt like Jake’s problems center on himself. He’s hated for being an unclass, but he’s oblivious to others with similar situations. When he does think of others not as lucky as himself, his attentions are too little or too late. I’m hoping that enlightenment in this area is being saved for later. I’d like to see how both Jake and Peter would approach the class issues in the Empire.
Another niggle I had was over the extremity of some of what Jake goes through. Despite being caught up in what was going on, a romantic gesture and some painful punishment still felt over the top to me. I found myself asking “did they really have to do that?” at certain scenes. I’d have preferred more nuanced consequences for Jake, even if the angst and drama had me flying through the pages. I preferred the subtler moments, like those between Jake and his assigned servant, Jonathan. There was the suggestion all is not as it seems in that area, and I’m curious where it will go in the next book. Well, if there is a next book. Fighting Gravity didn’t end with a cliffhanger, but it did feel like Jake’s story wasn’t over.
Overall: Fighting Gravity is a science fiction romance styled as a memoir about a poor unclass boy (Jake) whose genius intellect brings him out of the slums and into the path of the Emperor. They fall in love, but there are consequences because of deeply engrained beliefs about class hierarchy. Overall I thought this was a well-written, emotionally gripping type of read that went down easy. It may not have knocked my socks off because I wanted the class issues further developed, but I can see others not having that issue, and at $2.99 for the ebook, it’s worth giving it a go. Recommended for those looking for a coming-of-age type of SFR.
My blogging buddies haven’t read this one yet.