*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
Though I enjoyed this book and have nothing but good things to say about it, I want to start off by saying I kind of had the wrong idea about it from the blurb. I was expecting, and wanted, more horror and chaos and intensity. Instead things started off nice and creepy with a salvage mission on an eerily empty ship, a mysterious new passenger, and the horror that Riff woke up to, but then it became more about trying to find a way off the ship, the romance between Riff and Zed, and the inner struggles of the characters. So this was not a fast-paced, action-packed book but rather a slow-paced, character-focused one.
But, luckily, I just so happen to like character-focused books and romance and don’t at all mind a slow pace when the characters are interesting enough to make it work—and these characters were.
Riff was such an intriguing character, maybe even more so when viewed through Zed’s POV. He was super intelligent and confident and caring and a great leader, but he was also tormented and carried a lot of guilt and was sexually submissive (which probably seems weird to mention here, but it was a really big part of him). Zed was also a great character. He too had intelligence and compassion, but he was also exactly what Zed needed. Their relationship seemed like a really healthy, caring one, despite the kind of odd circumstances in which it came about.
Now let’s talk about the sex scene because, see, I’m not a fan of most types of BDSM in books (the exception generally being scenes involving vampires/biting/blood). I can tolerate scenes with other types of BDSM, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually found them sexy… until I read this book. Hot damn. One thing I really liked about it was that the characters’ enjoyment of it wasn’t all related to tragic backstories. I feel like most people’s reasons for whatever sexual kinks they have is probably simply because they like it, not because of a tragic backstory or a psychological disorder or some deep, meaningful thing, yet I see that so often in books. But in this book, yeah, part of the reason Riff liked pain was because it distracted him from his regrets and guilt, but he also just liked pain and had even before the regrets. And he liked being able to let someone else take control for a while. Those were believable reasons. Same for Zed being dominant—he was new to it, but, once he tried it, he just liked it and it turned him on seeing how much Riff enjoyed it. And being able to experience the scene through both POVs, plus having Zed’s psychic/empathic ability give further insight into what Riff was feeling, really helped me to understand why they both enjoyed it so much. It also helped that it wasn’t too extreme, it was safe, the two men communicated, and Zed clearly cared about Riff and made sure to keep things healthy on an emotional level as well. Plus it was just a well-written, sexy scene. I didn’t mean to write such a long paragraph about one single sex scene, but I’m telling you, this scene has been revolutionary to my opinion, and if all BDSM scenes were written like this, I would actually be a fan!
As for the plot, it was there, the characters had a goal, weird things happened, bad things happened, there was a bit of gore and violence, there were a lot of dead bodies, but, as I said, this book was character-focused, so there wasn’t a ton of action or horror or science—just enough of each to keep things moving forward. I’m even kind of tempted to classify the book as sci-fi romance.
So this book didn’t turn out to be what I was expecting from the blurb, but the characters were intriguing and likeable, the sex was hot, the exploration of BDSM was interesting, the romance was sweet and healthy, and overall the book was a great read! And even though it’s my understanding that this was a standalone, I’d happily read more about Riff and Zed if the author ever decided to write about them again!
M/M sci-fi and romance readers who like slow-paced, character-focused books.
Haunted by the screams of the men he murdered, ex-Marine medic Riff Khora is serving a life sentence on board a prison ship. Seeking more punishment for his crime, he strikes a deal with the corrupt Captain Vidal—an exchange of pleasure and pain—and forges a new life leading the team that surveys space wreckage for salvage.
Ship engineer Zed Jakobsen’s psychometric abilities make prison a sentence worse than death, and the barrage of emotional stimuli is an unending torment. His only regret is that he didn’t kill the monster who sent him to prison, and only a glimmer of hope to escape a judgment he doesn’t deserve keeps him clinging to a brutal existence.
When they board derelict ship Pandora and discover a lone survivor, the hell of prison life plunges into abject horror. An epidemic of violence and insanity consumes their ship, driving the crew to murder and destruction. Mutual need draws Riff and Zed together, and their bond gives them the strength to fight a reality they cannot trust. But Vidal possesses the only means of escape from the nightmare, and he’s not letting anyone leave alive.
First Edition published as Pandora in the Deep Into Darkness: Aliens, Alphas and Antiheroes Anthology by Smashwords, 2015.