I’m just gonna say up front that I’m conflicted about writing this review, cause it’s so hard to review a book that you didn’t like! The one I’m going to talk about, For the Clan by Archer Kay Leah, was sent to me to review for the blog, which is why I’m going to go ahead and write about it, but please take this review with a grain of salt, and check out some of the positive reviews on Goodreads for balance!
Okay, that disclaimer is over and now I can talk about my thoughts. Phew. Part of my bad experience with this book actually is that as far as I remembered I thought this had bisexual women (or maybe non-binary) characters, but it actually has cis bisexual men characters. That’s totally my bad for accepting it for review on my blog when that’s not actually in my purview, but you know how your expectations for a book can colour your reading of it? Well, this totally happened here. But that’s not all.
For the Clan is a military science fiction / erotic romance that has some ideas with great potential behind them that aren’t fully realized. It takes place in 2165 AD in what was Southern Ontario, when a combined government and military—called the governtary—controls most everything and the majority of the population live in military-patrolled urban compounds. A small number of resistance groups live off the land on their own terms. It’s in one of these groups—called clans—where the book is set. There are lots of regular humans, and there are also these people who’ve been genetically modified called Vens. They’ve got special powers, which the governtary wants to use and that most humans have learned should be something to fear.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a pretty rad sci fi book, I agree! The problem is that the book doesn’t use this setting—what I would say is the biggest strength of the novel—to shape any of the other parts of the book: plot or characters. The scaffolding is there, but there’s a lot that needs to be filled in. What a missed opportunity!
For example, there’s a plot about the people of this particular clan rebelling and fighting the governtary. Rebellion against a fascist military government, great! But it’s underdeveloped to the point that it just kind of seems tagged on to the romance story. It just happened, kind of randomly at the end of the book?
Parallel to the military sci fi action is a romance mostly between two guys Jace and Roan (who’s a Ven), which later becomes polyamorous when they form a triad with Cayra, Jace’s wife. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance sub-plot. And although I’m not personally really into guy-guy erotic scenes, I have no doubt that the few drawn-out explicit sex scenes will be much appreciated by other readers. I’m not basing my judgement on that! My main complaint here is that never Jace nor Roan really felt like real people to me, thus I was never excited about their romance or relationship. The eventual poly turn of the romance, with the addition of Cayra didn’t really help, although she definitely felt more fully drawn than either of the men. If you asked me to differentiate between Roan and Jace personality-wise, honestly I wouldn’t have anything to say.
I think a balance of erotic romance and other kind of plots must be hard to negotiate. I mean, it’s easy to weave in sex scenes in a book that is only a romance plot-wise; the sex is tied to the romance plot, it reveals character, it pushes the romance / relationship plot forward. But in For the Clan, the sex and relationships didn’t have a link to the military plot, which left the novel feeling disjointed. It was like it couldn’t decide which to be, erotic romance or military sci fi, and then was left not really being either. (By the way, I think Lise MacTague’s On Deception’s Edge series, of which I’ve reviewed the first and second books, does an admirable job of juggling these two genres).
One last thing I want to warn readers about: there’s some oppressive language used uncritically in this book that definitely bothered me. Some of it is ableist: using “retard” and “deaf” as insults / negative terms. The word “bitch” is also used by male characters uncritically, which just makes me squirm. I’m fine with “bitch” being used by women in a reclaiming or humorous context talking about themselves or people they know well, or in fiction with an understanding that the novel isn’t condoning it, but this was not that context.
And two last good things! For the Clan has main character representation of people of colour, which is exciting to find here because it is definitely lacking in science fiction generally. Cayra is coded as Latina and Jace as South Asian, although their cultural/ethnic identities don’t really factor into their characters. I also appreciated the careful depiction of triggers during sex for Roan after having been assaulted while he was being held by the governtary and used for research.
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