Face of the Enemy

by Sandra Barret

Cover image

Series: Terran-Novan #1
Publisher: Digital Mindancer
Copyright: 2007
Printing: 2009
ISBN: 1-934452-36-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 216

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Set in a future SF world of an alliance of breakaway human colonies and a smoldering war between the Terrans (who focus on technology and implants) and the Novans (who have embraced genetic engineering), Face of the Enemy is military SF with a side of lesbian romance. Or vice versa. It was mentioned in a Tor.com roundup of SFF lesbian romance, and since I'd had good luck with lesbian romance and was looking for more light SF, I picked it up and read it between other things.

Flaws first for this review: Face of the Enemy is not going to impress anyone with its originality. Technology versus bioengineering is an old, old bit of world-building. Barret doesn't bring much new to it other than enhanced pheromones, which provoked a bit of an eye roll. One protagonist is from a military family and is passionate about joining the family tradition, particularly since her mother is frequently blamed for the loss of a major battle. The other protagonist is the beautiful daughter of a diplomat but is half-Novan and hiding it, since the bioengineered Novans are second-class citizens viewed with suspicion and repulsion by the Terrans. You can doubtless make some good guesses about where the rest of the story goes.

It's also the sort of story in which the protagonists are always the people you want to know: talented, eager, better than other cadets, but usually modest and loyal friends. Obviously, in a romance I want to like the protagonists and root for them. But the complex friendships of military cadets at the top of their class is another story that I've read many times before.

That said, while it might sound like you could write the rest of the story from the setup, I was surprised several times. Barret throws in some twists and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the complications generated by the backgrounds of both protagonists don't always follow expected patterns, and I was impressed by the degree to which the story manages to avoid clear-cut villains. I don't think it fully engages with the underclass on which both sides have built their societies, but there's at least some movement in that direction. The opening had set my expectations low, but there's more to this world than it first appears. I thought Barret did a reasonably good job staying consistent with the backgrounds of her characters: they have some connections, and those are somewhat helpful, but they're still trainees and never get unrealistic amounts of real responsibility. And I did like these people and enjoyed reading about them.

The romance itself has significant love-at-first-sight elements and lots of missed communication and unspoken uncertainty, which aren't my favorite plot elements. As you might imagine, the dark secret aspect of hidden genetic engineering angle is played to the hilt, with lots of failed communication and jumping to incorrect conclusions on both sides. It's the kind of story where people have to knock the heads of the protagonists together to get them to open up to each other, but at least that does happen, and is rewarding when it does.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book. It has significant flaws, some paint-by-numbers world-building, and some romantic stupidity. It's a minor work. But it did satisfy the reason I picked it up: light and unchallenging reading when I wanted something quick, optimistic, and with a happy ending. And although the romance isn't very original, it has the constant plus of lesbian romance: a refreshing deficit of standard sexist stereotypes.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2014-06-24

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