Title: Taji From Beyond the Rings
Author: R. Cooper
Length: 476 Pages
Category: SciFi Romance
At a Glance: While I felt the pace of the story slowed at times with the effort to describe and delineate all the various traits and characteristics of both the world and its people, as well as when describing some of the nuances of speech, in the end I appreciated it for the imagination and the romantic ties that brought Taji and Trenne together.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: The Interplanetary Trade Coalition has not been welcomed with open arms by the Sha Empire. Isolated at the far edge of a distant system, the Sha are distrustful of outsiders, and previous I.P.T.C. diplomatic missions have ended with members imprisoned or dead. But, if pushed enough, the I.P.T.C. will overrun the planet to take what it wants. The situation is already precarious when student linguist Taji Ameyo is conscripted to translate for the newest I.P.T.C. ambassador. Taji, used to being alone, has never learned to hide his heart or his opinions, and the controlled Sha nobility regard little, outspoken human Taji with fascination, calling him shehzha.
Mysterious, coveted figures, so devoted to their lovers that pleasing them is a test of Shavian honor, shehzha are usually kept out of public view. Taji is a nobody, hardly alluring, and yet it’s not long before his runaway mouth gets him entangled in imperial politics, and he has no one to rely on but the soldiers assigned to protect him—one soldier, more than the others.
At the mercy of both a greedy trade coalition and a proud empire, Taji has to determine what it means to be shehzha, while surrounded by ambitious noble families and a sharp-eyed emperor, and hopefully learn enough about the Sha to keep him and everyone he cares about alive.
Review: Readers who enjoy exploring sweeping SciFi realms will find plenty to sink their reading chops into in R. Cooper’s Taji from Beyond the Rings. Cooper spares no amount of imagination on the world building in this novel, creating a robust culture; integrating social norms and customs into the narrative; signifying the importance of clothing, adornments, and certain accessories; and then adding some political intrigue to the mix. The attention to detail, all the way down to the etymology of various words and their meanings, as well as to the gender fluidity and diversity of pronouns accessible to the characters to correspond with who they are, delivers on an impressive scale—so much so that I’d have appreciated a Glossary of Terms, as it all became a bit overwhelming. I’m glad Cooper didn’t “dumb it down” for me, though. I’d rather a book challenge me, and the significance of the language and certain nuances of intent and meaning was not entirely lost on me. This is, after all, Taji Ameyo’s purpose on the diplomatic mission to the Sha Empire.
I’ve said this before, and it applies again here: learning new things brings me joy, and look what R. Cooper did. She built an entire social and linguistic structure and then named it for the Shavian alphabet (which I didn’t know existed until now), and then made her main character a student of linguistics and a translator on top of it. That alone made me fall for both Taji and the book early on, and it endeared him to me even more as the story progressed. I didn’t love Taji for the sole purpose of his love of language and the history and meaning of words and cultures, though. Nor for his bouts of explosive verbal diarrhea, which becomes an important factor in who, or what, he is, and which caused no few diplomatic predicaments for Ambassador Tsomyal of the Interplanetary Trade Coalition. Cooper presents readers with a protagonist who is vulnerable and yet has depths of strength and courage, who can’t help but to be true to himself in every instance, and then pairs him with a soldier and an outcast who not only has depths of strength and courage himself, but who is also steeped in honor and who is gentle and soft and patient with Taji, and who sees Taji exactly how he is rather than how Taji sees himself. If pining to the nth degree is your cuppa, this book offers that in abundance.
Trenne, among all the other I.P.T.C. soldiers on diplomatic detail, is the one who matters most to Taji. Trenne is also an outcast in the Shavian society, and there are those who don’t hesitate to ensure he remembers that, constantly and in every way. The fact that Taji is Trenne’s most vocal defender is no surprise, and in return, Trenne is Taji’s most ardent guardian. That they’ve spent so long yearning for each other but aren’t sure how to say it, or follow through on their feelings because they each aren’t sure if they’re worthy of the other’s honor, is a trope used to its fullest potential and adds unresolved sexual tension to the political sensitivity and potential ramifications of their mission, should they fail. Separately, I loved them for their sensitivity to and awareness of each other’s needs. Together, I loved them for what they gave to each other, freely and with a depth of caring that was integral to their eventual bond as the revered shehzha and his eshe, which, in more familiar terminology, is somewhat similar to the mate bond in a shifter-verse. The shehzha initially becomes sexually addicted to the eshe, for lack of a better description, but the connection is symbiotic, and this adds the erotic and romantic component to the story. It also provides for a serious breach in diplomacy when Taji draws the attention of the Shavian Emperor, a man who covets Taji, which makes the Larin Emperor despise Trenne all the more. And, that feeling is fully mutual.
The defining moments of this novel occur on two fronts—first in the relationship that builds between Taji and Trenne, which is sweet and romantic and needful and fulfilling. Second on the political front, which encompasses the intrigue, danger to Taji on a personal level, and clarifies how little value he holds in himself as being important to the people who are sworn to protect him, not to mention to Trenne, who loves Taji beyond his culture’s available words for that feeling. There is a high degree of awakening to the reality that one’s past is not a predictor of one’s present; both Taji and Trenne are given the gift of that awareness and what they mean not only to each other but to the people who surround them.
Taji from Beyond the Rings is a hefty tome—not necessarily for the SciFi genre but for the romance genre, for certain—and while I felt its pace slowed at times with the effort to describe and delineate all the various traits and characteristics of both the world and its people, as well as when describing some of the nuances of speech (Taji offering the pronunciation of some words while I had to wing so many others), in the end I appreciated this novel for the imagination and the romantic ties that brought Taji and Trenne together.
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