Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20396-4
Sci-fi Romance, 2005
I have only a dim recollection of those books by Robin D Owens that I read back in those dinosaur days – I remember those hilarious amalgamations of names and how the author doesn’t give a middle finger at all in her world building. Heart Choice, like those books, is set in some planet in the distant future that is somehow in communication with the Old Earth, and in this place, we have heroes with telepathic Siamese cat familiars that all act precious and cute, chasing their HeartMates in a world where words are joined together nilly-willy like RitualCircle and FirstFamily and, of course, HeartMate. Everyone is happy, giddy, and full of love just like Care Bears, except when they are horny, and then it’s like some creepy Care Bear convention where the folks in those bear costumes start to have sex while the soundtrack of happy songs play in the background.
Reading Heart Choice in 2017 for the TBR Challenge makes me realize that I have been so wrong about the author. She isn’t a creepy Care Bear fanfiction author who kidnapped Dara Joy and locked the poor dear away in a basement while she took over that poor dear’s throne as the Queen of Space Feline Furry Fantasia. No, Robin D Owens is a visionary, using cool lingo like “Fam” long before it becomes popular among teenagers, and she also anticipates, back in the early 2000s, that we will soon be living in a world so dark and bleak that we will need a very simplistic, beautiful escape – into a world where cat ladies are the epitome of desirability, as their cats will lead a hot man into their lives, and these men would sex them up so good that every day from that point would be just… purr-fect.
In the future, we can isolate problematic genes, teleport people to distant parts of the world with a single thought, and more, but it seems like gene therapy is nonexistent. Our poor hero Straif Blackthorn has a “genetic disorder” that leaves him “vulnerable to the Angh virus”, which nonetheless still leaves him hot and virile. The virus just… does something bad. Don’t ask, and don’t think either. Plot and logic don’t always go well together – how are there Siamese cats and crème brûlée in a planet where everything else is of made-up, alien culture? – while science exists in a completely different dimension altogether. All we need to know is that Straif finds a feline companion early on, and this Siamese cat will call him “FamMan” for the rest of the story. Whether you howl in laughter or run away will screaming at “FamMan” will decide your reaction to the rest of the story.
After that, Straif tries to get it on with Mitchella Clover, who finds him completely hot to the point that she even uses her charm woo-woo to augment her attractiveness in his eyes… that is, until she learns that he is a nobleman and then she’s like, oh hell no, sleeping with a hot, powerful man is the worst thing any woman can do in this world. Still, how can anyone resist Straif’s physical attributes that range from “narrow legs instead of excess”, “narrow feet”, and “muscular calves”. I’m not kidding – these are the physical virtues highlighted first by the author. Either she has a thing for men who skip leg day or she is writing this story so that those men won’t feel unloved.
Oh. and Mitchella thinks that she is barren. You’d think she’d be then perfect for a man whose sperm apparently carries the mutant death gene of wangst, but no, it is very important for Straif to breed many, many children of his blood on his HeartMare, er, HeartMate in order to repopulate the land, so oh, clearly poor Mitchella’s defective womb will leave her out of the running. So what’s to stop her from just having sex with him then, you may ask. It’s not like she’s never had lovers before. Oh you sweet summer child, if you still ask that by now even after reading the synopsis so far, I don’t know what else to say to you.
Meanwhile, Straif is in danger of having his house and titles seized away by some upstart because he’s apparently been away for too long, and Mitchella needs to renovate his house chop chop while they are at it, and… and…
“I’m the renter. The owner is GraceLord Jalap, and the insurance company is Saffron and Hops.”
“I was at D’Holly’s HealingRitual last summer, and I presided – acted as priest and Lord – for the FirstFamilies Foregiveness Ceremony in the matter of Ruis Elder.”
Incidentally, Straif thoughtfully pauses to explain what he means by “presided”… to someone who has watched that very ceremony he is talking about. This is just one of the many howler moments in this story.
“And there’s that Zanth FamCat. Zanth is six times Pinky’s size. Pinky will always be a little cat. Zanth might tear him up.”
What does barbecued cat taste like?
“Surreal” is a nice, polite way to describe the prose in this one, as the author laces her story with so many cutesy names and awkward mashups of words that Heart Choice resembles more of an overlong Care Bear episode. Love can be channeled through one’s mind like some kind of telepathic tsunami, and everyone solemnly talks about how love is the most important thing in existence. This won’t be so bad if the author’s technique weren’t so terrible: in addition to characters narrating things in great length to people who already know of these things, there are also characters blinking and looking befuddled when confronted by the most obvious matters as well as acting clueless unless everything is spelled out to them in great detail. Also, the inclusion of lust and sex makes the cutesy overload of this story feel so, so wrong.
The thing is, Robin D Owens isn’t as bad as, say Cassie Edwards, no matter how their writing style can be disturbingly similar at times (especially when characters drop a fancy word only to pause and explain what that word means in the middle of conversations). Sure, this book feels like it was written by a teenage kid with more enthusiasm than talent, but the premise itself isn’t too bad. There is no magic baby here – there is a more realistic happy ending that takes into account the fertility issues of the hero and the heroine, and the conflict in the later act of the story revolves around having to choose between a best possible happy ending with someone they love, or give up love in order to have a more idealized romance novel happy ending but without the person they love in the equation. There is a subversive take home message here about how sometimes a perfect happily ever after does not have to conform to the typical romance novel type, dealt in a mature and reasonable manner that is a completely unexpected, given how these characters practically shoot love beams and what not at one another up to that point.
The purple cutesy overload of Heart Choice gives me plenty of unintentional comedy to laugh at and enjoy, so I can’t say this book is terrible. It’s pretty bad, but it’s bad in an entertaining manner. Come on – “FamMan”! I don’t know what the author is thinking, but bless her – I haven’t laughed this much while reading a romance novel in quite a while.