By K.S. Augustin
July 27, 2011
Pub: Sandal Press
What can you do when you start falling in love with the woman you’re meant to kill?
Laisen Carros is a covert agent of the Fusion, sent undercover to infiltrate the Perlim Empire. However, the years she’s spent as Cheloi Sie fighting Menon rebels on an alien battleground are starting to exhaust her.
To Lith Yinalña, Cheloi Sie is nothing but a war criminal and she considers it her personal mission to kill her.
Unfortunately for Laisen/Cheloi, the Empire and an idealistic assassin aren’t the only things she needs to worry about. A treacherous subordinate—the ambitious Koul Grakal-Ski—is looking for any chance to grab control of the territory. When Laisen and Lith start falling in love, it’s only a matter of time before Koul notices. And acts.
I won this book in a contest and I’m so glad I tried! It’s again that rare SF/F book with a female protagonist who has a romantic interest in women, so it was a treat for me. The plot is fast paced, tension is kept high and the characters, all of them including the secondary characters, are all compelling and fully developed.
I really have nothing negative to say about this book. The romance and plot were interwoven in just the right way and with an equal amount of book space and development.
One thing I liked that might be reader preference is that a lot of the story is intertwined with moral conflicts. Cheloi Sie/Laisen Carros is the most morally ambiguous character in this story and it’s mostly from her POV that this story is expressed through. I can’t really say that she’s a morally upright person, which I think will push some readers’ buttons, but I loved it. I’m actually rather fond of characters who have to do things that are ugly or wrong for what they feel is a greater good. That character who will make decisions and not dwell on how it negatively affects their internal code.
Cheloi Sei is a general for the Perlim who are trying to get control of the planet Menon in order to gain some foothold to fight their real enemy, the Fusion. Cheloi is a spy for the Fusion and has been sent to infiltrate the Perlim by becoming one of them. To play her role to a T, she needs to make hard decisions in which she has to order the mass murder of innocent people so that her cover and loyalty to the Perlim is never questioned.
What’s interesting to me is that ultimately, maybe the Fusion are not the altruistic people that they are presented as. On the surface it’s implied that they are the more “enlightened” group trying to curb the “evil” Perlim Empire from destroying and subjugating an innocent people on a foreign planet. However, like in most situations of war, it depends on what side you’re on as to whether your side is the “right” side and that becomes an interesting conflict inside of Cheloi. Is she just a pawn for an equally controlling Empire?
It’s interesting to me to think about these kinds of things because all of the characters in this story are acting and doing atrocious things, except for maybe Lith, in the name of the rightness of their empire and ideology. It’s for the greater good. K.S. Augustin did a great job of really getting into the internal conflicts or lack thereof when the characters are confronted with things that go against their beliefs, like falling in love with the enemy, etc.
Cheloi is a strong, steely, unflappable woman. She can’t afford to make one mistake or her cover and her mission to take down the Perlim as a Perlim general will all be for naught. Her second in command, Koul Grakal-Ski, is an ambitious man and resents her for being appointed to a position he felt was his. He’s looking at every turn to find something on her to take her down so he watches her every move carefully. He’s also extremely loyal to the Perlim Empire and would never do anything to hurt it. His need to follow orders and be loyal becomes Cheloi’s luck in her mission. But he still tries to undermine her constantly.
To keep up with the stress of always being on top of things, she talks often to a virtual psychiatrist with whom she can interact with inside her head through a chip. In this way we get a good chance to see what’s going on inside of Cheloi Sie’s head, what she really feels, how things really affect her and we get to see that there are cracks. She’s very “human” and her relationships with the people she works with do affect her deep down. She's also got a painful past and that is constantly hinted at but comes out in bits and pieces, slowly allowing us see where she comes from ultimately.
Outside of her intense attraction to Lith, she’s particularly fond of Rumis, her adjunct who is extremely loyal to her and the Perlim empire. However, unlike the conniving Koul Grakal-Ski, Rumis is honorable in his loyalty to her and it eats at Cheloi that she is being deceitful to a man she admires. There are painful consequences in Cheloi’s later decisions about Rumis, which I thought added a lot to the choices she makes for her future and her loyalty to the Fusion. She pays severe consequences emotionally for liking him and I liked that spurred character reflection and growth.
So all in all I loved the dynamics of what drives all the characters. There are lots of interesting moral questions presented that made this story really interesting to me.
Then there’s the romance. Lith is a young idealist who gets swept up in the romantic ideology of freeing her people from the Perlim Empire even though her parents were born Perlim. She belongs to a small, rouge Fusion group who have sent her to kill Cheloi, whom they know to be a mass murderer of innocents. What she doesn’t know is that Cheloi and she are fighting for the same side, which sets up the very interesting conflict for her in her attraction to Cheloi.
Right from the get-go there’s a strong attraction between Lith and Cheloi, which both intrigues Lith and freaks her out. They get it on fairly quickly but if it’s found out that they are having an affair, Koul will have an excuse to get rid of Cheloi, so they have only stolen moments together.
One thing I’ll say here is that while I did feel they are attracted, I couldn’t understand why Lith would put up with being coolly dismissed after sex, which is what Cheloi does to 1. keep her distance knowing that Lith’s the enemy and she shouldn’t lose her heart to her, and 2. to keep the relationship secret. However, it was clear that Lith, while bothered by it, realizes that it’s necessary and can’t help herself, she wants Cheloi.
Lith's personal codes are called into question as well as she's forced to make an important decision, which could jeopardize her mission to kill Cheloi and her break her heart at the same time.
While not the most passionate couple due to these issues, the romance is nicely and slowly developed. I felt that these two ache to be together even if they’re rather reticent in their expression of it. And there is a happy ending.
Outside of all of that, there’s a nice tension and suspense throughout the whole book that kept the story exciting. There are so many twists and intrigues and alliances and deceits that I kept reading just to see what would happen. I definitely recommend War Games if you’re into sci-fi and f/f and even if you’re not. It’s just a good compelling story all around.
Heat level: 2-3. The sexual scenarios are not too graphically written. More sensually written with softer terminology used.