Title: Cupid’s Arrow
Author: Susan English
Genre: Science Fiction / Romance
How far would you go for the one you love? Faced with an existential threat and an even bigger threat to her home planet, biologist Pavani Nampeyo makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect her people from impending tyranny, losing her true love and soulmate in the process. Together with a team of strong women, and aided by unexpected allies, she attempts to drive out the occupation in the hopes that she might be able to reconnect with the one person that gives her life meaning.
Like any science fiction novel, effective world building is one of the essential ingredients to the success of this book. Susan English approaches world building from a slightly different perspective. Yes, there were the usual futuristic gadgets and artificial intelligence, but there were also touches of the mundane and the ordinary, like colorful curtains, throw pillows, a unique vase here and there. Rather than being jarring, they ground readers to the setting and tie into the overall message of this book: that despite the fantastical elements, this is a book about human frailties and human relationships.
Pavani, the main character, was well-supported by a cast of characters that were equally strong and memorable. Though it was hard to distinguish each one in the beginning, the author took her time to grow and develop her characters and their relationships with each other. She was generous in giving all of them space to breathe, such that they added layers to Pavani’s unfolding story. The author was also brave enough to take risks with her main character, showing the imperfections along with the virtues, which made Pavani more complex and infinitely more interesting.
Cupid’s Arrow started out as an epistolary novel, then took on an almost journal-like structure. In the end, whether by accident or design, the author chose to tell the story in the normal, linear narrative form. Consistency in this area would have reduced the degree of confusion and made for a better reading experience. This book also would have benefitted from further editing. Bits and pieces that did not add to the overarching story could have been edited out and would have solved some of the pacing issues. As such, the book started strong, meandered in the middle, before picking up the action toward the end.
This book was advertised as part science fiction, part love story. One would expect the central love story between Pavani and Calli to provide the emotional center of the book, but it was not as developed and not as believable as Pavani’s other relationships—with her friends, with an enemy turned ally, and with a superior turned lover. In a way, maybe it’s a better book because of that. It focused on Pavani’s relationships with others and how she grew as an individual. By having her be with other people, it also sets up a nice little conflict that can be explored in subsequent books.
In the end, to categorize this book as either science fiction or romance or even a combination of both would do it a disservice. It is far richer in scope, and its depth allows it to transcend genres. It is also the ultimate feminist wish-fulfilment, subverting heterosexual norms, exploring female sexuality with unabashed freedom and allowing strong female characters to take center stage rather than being reduced to secondary roles or love interests. A refreshing take on well-trodden genres, this diverse and thrilling book will surely leave readers eagerly anticipating the next installment.
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