To See the Sun, Kelly Jensen
Rating: 5 Stars
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Sci-fi/Fantasy, Age Gap, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Length: 295 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies—what chance does love have?
Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion—someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.
Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything—even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.
Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.
**Treat this review as a spoiler review**
To See the Sun starts with a lot of impact. Gael is on the roof of a building looking through a scope at a mark for a hit. A young girl moves into his site and that, along with the fact that Gael is clearly no hitman, makes him stop and ask himself how he got there. While he’s thinking, and occasionally looking through the site, the hit is made… but he didn’t pull the trigger. When Gael leaves the building the girl who was with the mark is suddenly there, asking to come with him. He can’t look after himself let alone a young girl. She has a credit band on her wrist so he tells her how to use it to get out of District Twenty-Eight. Gael has his own worries, he has to get rid of the gun because the Trass family, a crime family that cruelly coerced him into their organisation, will make sure he gets framed, was likely their intent all along, and the gun leads straight back to him. He goes to see the only person he can trust, Price. Price owns a pawn shop, the best way to describe it, and he’s a friend. He knows Gael’s had a hard life, one bad break after another, one sad story too many, and now he’s in a dangerous bind. Price takes the gun, giving Gael a few credits, a new ID, and sets him up on Heart Companions, an online companion contract organisation. There are myriad reasons as to why someone seeks out a companion and why someone needs to be one. Gael’s level of need to leave and get as far away from Zhemosen has been bumped up.
Bram lives on Alkirak, a mining planet that’s a far-flung outpost outside of Commonwealth Space. Bram was a miner for the Muedini Corporation for three terms, thirty years, and is only one term behind Orfeo – his former boss, sometimes friend-with-benefits, and the mayor of Landing, the capital of the Company owned planet. Bram still mines on his leasehold property of Henderson Crevasse, but he also runs a small farm with soy crops and hardy hens and rabbits. He hooks up with a couple of other men occasionally. Apart from Orfeo one of his hook-ups is Noah, who’s recently taken a wife through a companion site. The miners tend to be a bit fluid in regards to what sex they can get on an isolated planet, but Bram is gay. He’s also a tad more of a romantic, in as much as the idea of love and a family appeals far more than occasional hook-ups. It took a while to put himself online and then over a year to actually choose someone for a contract. Once he sees Gael Sonnen’s holo vid, his shy demeanour, his stumbling words, that smile, Bram feels this is the man he wants as his companion.
“Noah’s cute. You, though? You’re the genuine article, Bram. For every single person who answered his ad, we’d find ten if you advertised,” Maia said.
Ten candidates he wouldn’t have a chance to vet before they made contact of any sort.
Gael likes Bram’s HV as well. He’s mature, easy on the eye, ruggedly handsome, and best of all, he’s quiet and economical with his words, all of which calms and comforts Gael. It takes Gael time to travel from Zhemosen to Alkirak and the holo vids they exchange during transit are sweet and full of promise. The more Gael hears from Bram, the more he feels this is something he really wants, that Bram is so nice, that he could offer more than just escaping his past. Maybe. The more you learn about Gael’s past the more you understand his absolute need to escape the life he’s had up until now.
When Gael finally arrives at Landing there’s an unexpected locker that arrives with him. Maia, Orfeo’s sister and the owner of pretty much every business in Landing, assures a perplexed Gael it has his chip attached to it. Lo and behold, out pops the young girl who tried to come with him after the hit. She claims to be Gael’s sister and Gael goes along with it… after he gets past the shock. I was as taken aback as Gael because I didn’t know this book was going to have a child as one of the primary characters. I’m rarely fond of children and a nuclear family in my romance reading so I wasn’t sure how I’d go. Aavi is eleven and she’s a bundle of a self-sufficiency beyond her years comingled with wide-eyed childhood wonder. I’m happy to say that she was a source of delight throughout the entire book. Aavi added another layer, a conduit, and I’m so glad she stowed away.
Gael is somewhat perturbed by Alkirak at first glance. He expected green grass, maybe a blue sky and lovely sun would come along with Bram and farming. He didn’t really know, but he hoped. Bram probably gave it an extra spin to have a companion. But Alkirak is a planet of cracks and crevasses, ledges, switchbacks, and terraces. There are poisonous mists at the bottom of crevasses, extreme acid rain and tumultuous storms, and the sun is too blisteringly hot to be tolerated after sun-up or too close to sunset. The days on Alkirak are approximately thirty standard hours long. Going too far down or up on the planet means rebreathers and special environmental suits. The sky is a yellow, and reds and purples dominate the water supply used for Bram’s excavated home. Despite Gael’s initial feelings, he’s increasingly enchanted by the new colours of Alkirak, and as limited as it is, just being able to see the sky. The sun is special, so is peace – something Zhemosen never could or would offer him.
General bits and pieces –
To See the Sun is given two POV – Gael and Bram’s. It’s just as well because neither are the loquacious type. The reader really needed to be in both their heads, particularly given that this book is a slow burn, character driven romance. A deep character connection is necessary for this type of book, and Kelly Jensen delivers that. The story is definitely sci-fi, it has some excellent world building, and the imagery is vividly drawn by the author. However, it is still first and foremost a romance. A romance that just happens to be set in an alternate time and place. To be honest, I normally prefer more action and adventure with my sci-fi but I found myself caught up in Gael and Bram, in their simple yet intricate romance. I was also sucked in to Aavi’s chit-chat and childlike thoughts, fears, and happy moments. Alkirak’s backdrop offers a great deal of character – inhospitable but interesting, treacherous but ruggedly beautiful. I found myself thinking, and more than once or twice, what it would be like to live there.
The writing has some lovely dialogue, sentiments and emotions, particularly between Bram and Gael. There is initial attraction and hope, but the relationship between the two men takes some time to fully develop. Gael has skeletons. Bram isn’t prepared for an instant family with an eleven-year old, despite having wanted family. The reality is that it takes work to create a solid relationship, not something either man is familiar with, and to develop a feeling of true family. Bram’s sure there’s more to Gael than Gael lets on, nightmares definitely give more than a hint of that, and Gael is thin, far too thin, he’s also nonplussed about Aavi and the locker, he’s quick to feel guilty, and he’s clearly tense about intimacy. So Bram makes a conscious decision to wait for the truth. For Gael to be ready. For Bram to be sure. For Aavi and Gael’s story of how Aavi ended up with Gael to be completely set straight.
Opening his eyes, Bram prepared to ask the question that could ruin it all. He had to know. If he was going to take Gael home and make him a part of his life, he had to know. “What are you really running from, Gael?”
Gael’s expression blanked for a second before shuttering tight.
When Gael turned back around, his eyes were glassy. “I don’t want to tell you.”
“I need to know, Gael. This can’t work if I don’t know.”
There is an age difference between the MCs. Gael is twenty-nine to Bram’s forty-seven, although in this world living to one-hundred and twenty is part of their normal. Both MCs are wonderfully endearing characters. Gael’s dogged survival, his gentleness, his resourcefulness and bravery. Bram’s patience, considered words, his comfort, his stories, the promise of what may lie ahead with him all give Gael a measured hope that this relationship, this life on Alkirak with this man, with a little family, might not be just another something that goes horribly wrong for him. Gael is in awe of the simple things Bram enjoys. Bram can’t get enough of Gael’s smile. He wants to be his lover – when Gael is ready, not before – and to protect him from his hard past. Bram wants to be needed by someone special as well.
He did want to be needed. He wanted to be necessary to the happiness of another person. He wanted to banish the demons that tortured Gael’s sleep. Wanted to make him smile every day.
Aavi and Gael become this wonderful little family of their own. One forged out of adversity that no one should ever have to experience. Even if Bram couldn’t accept them, which I knew was never going to be the case, their different but shared experiences on Zhemosen had already created a bond. Both of them quickly grow to love being on Alkirak – because of Bram, the strange farm animals, the peace and limited contact with other people, the promise of what it is and could forever be.
The blurb for To See the Sun gives any potential reader a good idea of what to expect but it can’t explain the emotional impact of the book, and that impact is one of this book’s greatest strengths, along with good world building and truly lovely characters. These days I’m increasingly looking for different stories within the gay romance – or MM – genre and they’re getting harder to find. This book offered me the promise of a different world and setting and it delivered, along with quality writing, great characters, and a beautiful and emotional romance. I was totally cheering for them.
If you normally like sci-fi blended with romance then this should appeal. If you like general romance, perhaps more contemporary, I still believe you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re after a more action packed sci-fi you may have to think on it. But I like action based sci-fi/fantasy myself, and there is a little bit, just a smidge, but I really, really enjoyed this book as it stood. I understood Gael for many reasons. I, too, love the sun. I also love the unusual landscape and colours that Australia gives me, I know I would search them out if I didn’t have them. That Gael is originally from a monochromatic, dark and desperate underground world, one that was choking him emotionally and physically, meant he needed more. Bram and Alkirak give him that ‘more’. That he had such a hard, sad life really tugged at my heartstrings – I need that emotional connection in my favourite books. That Bram has an abundance of heart to give, is patient, genuine, mature, and decent, but isn’t always one hundred percent sure of what’s next with Gael’s story, added to a believable and touching narrative. That Aavi value-added was a totally unexpected and wonderful bonus. I’ve never read Kelly Jensen before but after reading To See the Sun I definitely will again. 5 Stars!