For a novella it is actually a pretty decent one. I start with 'for a novella' because usually the limitation of words either results in a rush of sequences or in untidy, abrupt narration. Neither style is very fulfilling.
In Exchange, the story is told by a female 'earthward' prisoner who can't remember anything of her past except several instances of her ineffectual rebellion against her silent guards and their painful consequences. Her life is spent in a sterile haze, alone, angry and scared.
Then a man arrives. He stands out from all the other prisoners who shun her because she still resists. His colour, his features, his strength all set him apart from the pale, weak humanoids who fill the prison halls.
Unexpectedly he focuses on her and for the first time she feels someone else's concern for her well being.
And no matter how much she wants to push him away he wont leave her alone.
In a short few chapters we understand the trauma 'Myah' has been going through, how alone and disoriented she feels all the time, the hope 'Ruhan' brings to her world and the bewildering rush of memories that follow.
Set far in the future, this is as much a romance as it is a story of escaping a prison where they are unfairly held and regaining the freedom that was taken away.
What I really liked ---
> The gravity of having ones memories taken away and then returned a long time later is not trivialized. It messes with ones head, and messed with Myah's a lot.
> The connection between Myah and Ruhan was sweet and restrained. It suited the story.
> The descriptions of everyday life of a prisoner whose every need is taken care of by programmed bots that were never intended to compensate for human distresses was carefully thought out and well written.
What gave me pause ---
> Despite not knowing whether she had always been in this prison, Myah seemed to have a surprising knowledge of a few things that should have been out of her grasp. Green summer grass, for instance. (Then again, their 'exercise yard' was not well described - it's possible that it had green grass, though unlikely) Also the fact that most of the prisoners are 'earthwarders'. How could she know that when she couldn't recall what Ruhan was?
> The escape was actually quite easily orchestrated. The story didn't linger on how it was possible for Ruhan to almost walk free from their respective chambers to the landing pad.
But there was nothing I really disliked. It is a good novella and probably deserves 3.5 stars. I hope there is a sequel that delves deeper into this world. I would give that one a shot.
DISCLOSURE: The author supplied me with a copy on the condition that I write an objective review. Here I've tried to keep my word.
I first read Rachel Rossano's writing when I won her short story Exchange on goodreads and reviewed it. Since then I've followed her blog and read snippets of her subsequent releases.
By the time Duty came out I was familiar with her style of writing and world building.
In an alternate medieval world, in the land of Rhynan, a war has come to end and a new king is sitting on the throne. He rewards his men with title and land, and one of them, now the new Earl of Irvaine, he gives the task of securing the eastern border land by settling his soldiers in the village of Wisenvale and taking wives from the widows and women of marriageable age.
One of these women is Brielle Solaris. She was the daughter of the late nobleman who was lord of this village, but now lives in relative obscurity because the land has passed on to her careless and selfish cousin, Orwin.
When Lord Irvaine begins the process of settling his men into domesticity in her village, they cross words. But then Lord Irvaine reveals that her own fate has already been sealed by her cousin who, in a show of loyalty to the king, has given her hand and his properties to Lord Irvaine.
Brielle's life changes from worrying about feeding her village for one more season to worrying about traitors and politics and the affection of a husband who is a stranger and yet becoming quickly the most familiar and steady thing in her world.
I'm very fond of the marriage of convenience trope. Imagine strangers suddenly forced to share lives, needing to trust each other, trying to be friends, not really expecting more. Put them in the midst of turmoil where they have to show a united front to the world outside. They hardly know each other! So it's a quiet fight against time as they try to learn and take measure of each other's characters. Because a weak partnership could be used against them. And in that time if they suddenly find that what they thought was the worst sort of travesty had actually become the best source of comfort and support? That would make an awesome romance! =D
So Brielle and Tomas, Lord Irvaine, travel to his new holdings and they begin the process of learning and trusting each other. The men in her village, most of who were now dead, had fought on the other side of the war. Distrust was natural. Brielle has only ever received kindness from her father and now finds herself expecting Tomas to show the darker side of his nature every time she speaks out or argues with him. But unexpectedly, he understands what she is feeling, he is kind and sweet, and even though Brielle has not quite wrapped her head around being married to a stranger, Tomas is already thinking that maybe agreeing to this had not been one of his worst ideas.
But as they grow closer, a rebellion led by Orwin and supported by the baron robbers of the east rears its head. Unexpected responsibility falls on Brielle's shoulders when in Tomas's absence she is faced with sedition in their new holdings. Just when they thought war had finally ended, a new one begins to brew.
I think what I enjoyed best about this book was the care Rossano took in giving us a heroine who took tough decisions and stood by her word, but was also ordinary in a relate-able way. She had been trained in wielding a sword by her father, but in no way was she competent enough to fight a trained, battle-hardened soldier. She wasn't used to riding for long stretches of time and so when she suddenly had to spend days on a horse, she didn't magically get used to it. When towards the end she faced a charge of treason and knew that she could hang, she doubted Tomas's assurance that everything would be alright because despite her feelings for him, she knew he wasn't infallible and her trust in him didn't blind her to that.
If I have any complains at all, it has to do with a few mild anachronisms like the use of the words "noodles" and "hi" in a middle ages setting. =)
Otherwise, this is a sweet love story set in the background of a king establishing a new regime. I thought it was pretty well told and I especially liked the idea that the king now on throne wasn't necessarily wiser or better than the previous one, and under pressure could become just as paranoid as the ruler he just deposed. The ending was believable.