It’s fair to say that I don’t read erotic science fiction romances very often—like almost never—but hey, it’s good to broaden your horizons, right?
Lilith’s Fall is the first book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series. Lilith Galeron is a mild-mannered (her best friend Stacia calls her “boring”) but highly skilled computer programmer living in Dome City, a collection of large, connected domes on an unnamed planet. The society is tightly controlled by a religious leadership called the Diakonos, whose rule is enforced by police known by the Orwellian name of the Peace Keepers.
But there’s trouble in paradise and Lilith is suddenly arrested by the Peace Keepers, who wrongly allege that she’s involved with a shadowy revolutionary group called the Commemoro. She is taken to a secret prison where she’s thrown into a cell with a huge, dark, winged and horned creature from a species she’d only heard about, called the Demons. It turns out that this particular demon, or umbrose, as the race calls itself, is the duke, one of the senior leaders, of his people. Ranove is big, he’s bad, he’s built (and wearing only a thong), and the Peace Keepers expect him to do bad things to Lilith, like kill her. Maybe even eat her.
Instead, of course, after some serious initial awkwardness, Ranove and Lilith start to fall for each other. Ranove stages a bloody escape, which lets Lilith try escape, too. However, she’s foiled by the isolated location of the prison until Ranove finds her and carries her off to his people’s last redoubt in the heart of a dead volcano. There they’re protected (they think) from a seemingly similar but white-skinned race called the adurians who are their mortal enemies, and who are also allied with the Diakonos in Dome City. Once there, while Lilith tries to adjust to umbrose culture, she and Ranove consummate their relationship. Conveniently, they’re physically, but not genetically, compatible.
More adventures ensue. Lilith and Ranove are separated, come back together, and are separated again. During their final separation, Lilith discovers that Stacia and other friends were in fact part of the Commemoro, and faced with no other choice, joins them. A Commemoro attack on an adurian compound results in Ranove and Lilith being reunited, and the revolutionaries and umbrose reluctantly join forces to rescue Balfour, the umbrose’s prince, whom the adurians are holding and torturing, and to end the reign of the Diakonos. The rescue succeeds, at great cost, and Lilith and Ranove are reunited for good.
True to the conventions of erotic romance (so I’m told), the sex scenes between Lilith and Ranove hold nothing back. However, for this reader, they were not overdone and were appropriate to the relationship. Lilith and Ranove are fully-developed characters, with needs beyond the physical, and with fears and concerns, struggles and triumphs. The supporting casts of humans and umbrose play their parts well and set the stage for the series’ second book, Balfour’s Salvation.
It would be easy to project our own society’s struggles with race onto this story, or to see parts of the story as a commentary on how certain earthly religions control their believers. I can’t say whether either of these was Trombley’s intent, however. Instead, she plays up the contrast between one’s expectations about someone based on their appearance, the stories others have told or have been told about them, and who and what they really are. Ranove can be one really bad dude, but Trombley does not give him a heart of gold. Instead, she develops his concerns and motivations, so the reader can identify with him as someone fighting for a cause greater than himself… and, oh, by the way, for the love of a woman who’s very different from him.
Highly recommended for the SF romance reader. Recommended for any SF reader interested in reaching into new areas of the genre, at least so long as they’re not squeamish about sexually explicit scenes.