City of Kaus Book 1: Revenge by Dani Hoots – Review

"A swashbuckling upper YA/NA LGBTQ+ sci-fi western you don't want to miss!

It has been three years since Elvira "Ellie" Ryder was betrayed by her ex-boyfriend Cor, which caused the destruction of her people by invaders from a different Zone. Now she will do anything to find him and make him pay.

Ellie has found someone who knows where Cor is. The price—assassinate a half-human, half-Sirian who is trying to join the Society, a high-class club only for the rich. Ellie takes the job, as it wouldn’t be the first assassination job she has taken, and heads to the Human Zone. However, when she learns more about her target, the more she realizes what is going on behind the curtain, and how her people were really destroyed.

Will Ellie be able to forgive Cor after learning the truth? Or will she forever hold on to that hatred?

*Rep: Bisexual, asexual, & gay"

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Now I want to say right off the bat that I went into this book loving the concept, and it has a really awesome cover, so points to it there.

In it, we have the characters Ellie and Zach who are, after they’re betrayed and their entire race destroyed by their best friend (and Ellie’s ex-fiance), Cor, on a mission to seek revenge on him for all the harm he caused. In order to finally get to him, they take a job to assassinate a human named Gabe, who is trying to get into the prestigious, off-planet rich people club called the Society. Little do they know, Gabe and Cor are more closely connected than they think, and Cor’s role in the destruction of their species is much more complicated than they’re aware. 

Being a sci-fi, there are of course several different alien races and the biggest plot point connecting them is that they’re all willfully segregated by race into different factions, or Zones as they’re called in the book. There are humans, Pleiadeans “if one counted [them] separate from humans,” Lyrans (cat people), Sirians (mer-folk), Silurians (lizard people), and finally, there are the Kausians, the golden-eyed shapeshifters who were all but destroyed by the Silurians all thanks to Cor. Cor, Ellie and Zach seem to be the only ones left, and Ellie and Zach are rightfully hurt, angry, and understandably feeling vengeful. Then we have Gabe who has a bounty on his head for trying to join the Society as a half human, half Sirian. 

The story had a lot of potential here, whether it be as a commentary on the flaws of a society like this, as a space-western, or even simply as a good, fast-paced character driven novel. Unfortunately, that’s about where the good things I have to say end because in the end it didn’t deliver. I desperately tried to like this book and I read all the way through, hoping for something that would redeem it, and was left disappointed. 

I’m not sure where to begin, because all of it was rather frustrating and I’m not even sure if I can touch on it all in a single review. It often felt like the story was being spoon fed to the reader and more often “told” than “showed” when it came to the characters’ feelings, interactions, and even some scenes throughout the book. This didn’t leave a lot of room for the reader to think, or room for much of any suspense or tension to build up, especially at the end where suspense would have been this book’s ally. As for the worldbuilding in the book, it could have used more detail as well – anything to make it easier to understand the setting the characters interacted with beyond the knowledge of the Zones. And despite being a space western, the space and the western meshed together like a raygun in the wrong holster. 

There was also a lot of odd and unnecessary repetition littered across the pages. For example, a character would come to a conclusion, and upon that conclusion reiterate that same point over and over just in different ways from that point on. Then in the next pov chapter, that next character would have that same thought or quickly come to the same conclusion, and the cycle would continue. One instance that comes to mind is when Cor is on a ship to the Society and he thinks about the fact that he easily gets sick on transportation like this. Then in both Ellie and Zach’s following chapters, they both make points to reiterate how they, too, get sick on ships the instant idea is brought up. Then when we get to Gabe’s pov, it is mentioned that he observes this in the former characters, and he reaches the conclusion that all Kausians seem to get sick on transportation (excuse me, WHY???). In another instance, Ellie would spend most of her chapters thinking about how she wanted to get revenge and how hurt she was and how there was no way she could ever forgive Cor and she’s definitely going to kill him. But then when she sees him again and he recounts his version of events, she seems all too ready to forgive him and the subsequent “oh but I’ll just wait and see how he turns out before I trust him,” was very unconvincing.

It truly felt like a good chunk of the book was telling me things I already knew and things that didn’t need to be reiterated. On the flip side, the book failed to provide or focus on many details for things that would have been helpful to know for the flow of the plot and characterization. Taking Ellie as an example again, it would have been great to read about her memories or in-depth thoughts on her old feelings for Cor that would have given the reader something more to go off of than the fact that they’re exes and he betrayed her, thus making her a more “relatable” character. 

On that note, the characters were rather two-dimensional and all of their meager personalities read the same more often than not, especially for Ellie, Cor and Zach (oh and everyone felt annoyingly hypocritical, but I’ll get to that later). Ellie hated dresses, liked poker, and was focused on Revenge. Zach liked “frilly” drinks, was asexual, and functioned as the slightly more reasonable side of Ellie. With Cor at least, while not having much beyond wanting to make up for his actions and being a sex worker, we get a slightly more in-depth look into his backstory since its needed to explain why he’s actually not the bad guy and he was basically framed. Oh and did I mention all three of them get sick on transportation? Honestly I found myself wondering if they were a hivemind, because they had similar behaviours and thought processes, and somehow seemed to accurately guess how another of the three was probably feeling. Them being thick as thieves as teenagers doesn’t seem like a valid excuse. Gabe was probably the most well developed out of the four, maybe because he differed enough in personality from the others, and he’s given concerns beyond the plot directly in front of him.

Moving on from the characters themselves, the dialogue and conversations were also incredibly awkward and juvenile. For a book that’s marketed as upper YA/NA, I expected more. There was a scene not long after Zach and Ellie meet Gabe where they find out Cor has had to do sex work to get by, with Gabe often serving as his pimp. After a similar reaction from Ellie in her pov, we get to read this lovely reaction from Zach:

“…And I dress Cor up for his job.” 

I pressed my fist on my palm as if I had a thought. “Oh that reminds me. Can you give me a specific word for what he does?”

“He’s a prostitute.”

 Zach then proceeds to double over laughing, but then assures in his head that there’s nothing wrong with being a prostitute, its just so darn funny that their ex-friend is one. Oh but of course he’s offended when Gabe is confused by his reaction and tries to explain that many people like sleeping with Kausians for their shapeshifting abilities. This wasn’t funny or comedic relief, it was annoying, and for the amount of times he and Ellie took digs at sex work, it didn’t feel much like they were really joking either. 

That leads me to the characters’ hypocrisy. Like Zach and Ellie’s reactions to sex work, there would often be an “-ism” (racism often) portrayed in the book by some side character, then the pov character would make sure to say or think, “oh yes but I dont approve of that.” But of course this is never actually showed in the book, and again like with Ellie and Zach’s reactions to prostitution, they often contradicted themselves. For a character-driven book with a heavy focus on the racism that the main characters faced (to the point of genocide in the Kausian’s case), one would think at least one of them would have more empathy (the closest we got to was with Gabe)? For every one of them to instead go off and do things like box the other races into stereotypes was…not great. Had any of the characters acknowledged this as a flaw, or showed signs of them realizing the problems with the dynamic of their society if not by the end, then in the following book(s), then I think it would have actually made for a truly interesting piece of characterization and plot that would have worked well. But no, their world was just like that. 

This book honestly felt like it was trying to be something it wasn’t, like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Or a raygun in the wrong holster.

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