This is science fiction romance and the cover blurb compares her to Linnea Sinclair, so when the opportunity to read the ARC for this book came up, I jumped on it. I've been very excited about this new series by Katherine Allred when it first came on my radar last year during a "you choose the design" poll at Eos books, and then I read a 20 page excerpt and wanted to read it even more (now Harpercollins has the first 20% available to browse inside).
This book is told from the first person point of view of Kiera Smith, a Genetically Engineered Person – someone who was created in a test tube out of various superior genes of other people. This process is extremely expensive so GEPs are usually created and paid for by a company and then throughout their lives they are expected to pay off the initial expense of their creation. Kiera however, is special even among GEPs. Rather than being made from genes spliced from Naturals (normal non-enhanced people), she was made from other GEPs. This difference is a big issue for her and she's always thinking about it. Kiera works for Alien Affairs – a branch of the government that oversees life in new planets. Basically she is one of the first people to meet a newly discovered alien civilization and introduce them to the rest of the universe. She makes sure that they aren't exploited by greedy corporations only interested in their planet's resources and is an advocate for their rights.
At the start of Close Encounters Kiera's vacation with her rock-cat Crigo and her AI ship Max is cut short for a special assignment. Dynatec has applied for ownership of Orpheus Two under the law that if the intelligent life living there dies off in 100 cycles, they can take over. The indigeneous people are a race of very tall, very beautiful people with hair the same color as their eyes, which the first explorers have decided to call the Buri (after a Norse god). The new world, the technology, and the Buri was plenty of fodder for the mind's eye. This book was very much a Tarzan meets Jane if they were both super beings surrounded by high technology.
This is a science fiction romance, but the romance was secondary to the main plot which was Kiera finding out why the Buri was not reproducing at the rate they should have been. The Buri don't know what Kiera is saying and viceversa so for more than half of the book Kiera can't really hold a conversation with her love interest. She doesn't even know his name and just nicknames him Thor. Because Kiera can't really fully understand the Buri and only mostly understands their emotions, communication is minimal, and is often held through body language, gesturing, and Kiera's ability to read emotion. This means that the romance is very physical rather than cerebral, and we have the soul mate concept used to bring the hero and heroine together.
I'm not a big fan of the use of soul mates, but the story was well-written and because the romance was secondary it didn't bother me much. I did have a couple other minor problems along with this though. First of all, there were some things in here I found a bit inappropriate for a representative of Alien Affairs to do. Kiera is supposed to be their best and yet I had the feeling that if an anthropologist read this book, they'd be disagreeing with some of her actions. For example, I was surprised when I read how Kiera showed the Buri how to use shampoo. Was it really necessary for her to get naked and then soap the leader in front of the tribe? OK it linked into the plot, but this is one of the scenes I found hard to swallow. Another issue I had was that a lot of things were too idealized. When we're first introduced to Kiera who is not only a blonde bombshell but even more enhanced than the usual GEPs. Then we're introduced to the Buri who have surprisingly almost the same super-human qualities as our main character, who live in a planet which itself is unique and full of mostly friendly, ideal flora and fauna. Kiera is extremely lucky throughout the book with the way things went for her. It was a bit too easy.
Despite those issues, there were a lot of interesting ideas in here. I enjoyed all the devices Kiera used in her ship for food and for temporary shelter, what she used to communicate, her knowlege of Galactic Federation law, her weapons and fighting, and all the details that descibed her techologically advanced life. A life which contrasted nicely with what she met in the new planet – the jungle, the strange creatures, the Buri costumes and their food preparation – it was all very well thought out and keep me turning the pages with curiosity.
Overall: From the very beginning of this book I could understand the comparison with Linnea Sinclair's writing, and I think you should definitely pick this up if you are a science fiction romance fan. This was a fun space opera read with an interesting world and characters. I did find things a bit convenient and the main character a little perfect, but I would still recommend this for science fiction romance lovers, and I will pick up the second book.
Katherine Allred's website (there's a book trailer for Close Encounters there)