Book Review: Restricted by A.C. Thomas

Genre: Science-Fiction, LGBTQ+

Publishing Info: 2020 by NineStar Press

Pages: 227

Publisher’s Summary:
Dr. Aristotle Campbell is a desperate man. His twin brother has been abducted, and Ari will do anything to find him. Forced out of the comfortable solitude of his laboratory, Ari must leave their home world of Britannia and search the farthest reaches of space for his other half. He hastily equips himself with a flawlessly tied cravat, a handful of clues, and his small science vessel. Now, all he needs is a pilot to get him across the Verge, a barrier separating the civilized world from ungoverned space.

Pilot Orin Stone is a desperate man. No ship, no pay, no prospects. He spends his days barely scraping by in the rough colonies lining the Verge interior. When he gets an offer from a frantic, upper-crust professor in need of a pilot, he has no choice but to take the job. He just can’t believe it when the professor turns out to be the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen and that his offer includes a ship of Orin’s own. If Orin can keep his heart (and other portions of his anatomy) from leaping every time sweet, innocent Dr. Campbell looks at him, this should be his easiest job yet.

Rugged Orin and aristocratic Ari work together to navigate the lawless areas of space beyond the Verge, soon discovering that they work well together in all areas. Their immediate and intense attraction to one another is an obstacle to their plans that neither saw coming. More than sparks will fly when they break through the force field and enter restricted space, all alone together for the perilous journey, leaving barriers to their growing attachment far behind.

In their search across the stars, can two desperate men find their home in one another?

Restricted (NineStar Press/NetGalley)

My thanks for this review go to NineStar Press LLC and NetGalley, for providing me with the ebook of this novel in return for an honest review.

Easy to read it may be, but A.C. Thomas’ Restricted lacks the kind of detail desired in the plotting and characterisation, in spite of some interesting narrative ideas that deserve to be built on a lot more in the future.  

This isn’t my first reading experience of erotic LGBTQ+ fiction with elements of science-fiction in recent months. I am reminded of C.B. Lewis’ Time Waits, also released by the publisher NineStar Press. That book did something interesting with its characters though, by having one half of the central pairing come from a different time and having to readjust to modern society, as well as a plot and concept that was bigger than the journeys of the protagonist. That is not to say that there isn’t the potential for the plot to go in interesting directions, looking at the premise. There is the faintly steampunk tinge throughout, most notably on the planet of Britannia, as well as the intrigue of the mysterious Verge and the Restricted area. Rather than introducing these elements in a way that creates curiosity in the reader, they were presented in such a matter-of-fact way that it was almost as though the writer was slamming down the possibility or even the need to explain these to the audience. This would be acceptable if the central plot was so interesting that it would reduce these details to background knowledge anyway, but alas it wasn’t to be, and it was slightly frustrating to not get many details on the elements that could make this series stand out.

I must give props to the author for trying something different with the plotting. Instead of featuring one overarching narrative, there is a clear goal and this is only reached at the climax of the book, this being the eventual finding of the protagonist’s twin brother who was presumed missing. Before this, there are a series of skirmishes on worlds that very faintly resemble a developing narrative. They are moderately interesting and do raise more questions that are frustratingly left unanswered, but I ask myself whether these adventures were actually required in a book of this nature? More focus on a narrative in these chapters could have made them feel integral, rather than a distraction. These excursions are surrounded by multiple chapters spent on the ship with the two protagonists, with a tediously high number of chapters reserved for sexual acts between the pair. There is no real build-up in this narrative, as they do fall for each other very quickly, before they both play out the “They don’t feel the same way” trope. A couple of sex scenes in a book can really heighten the journey the central pairing has, but here it was almost as though the build-up was shunned in favour of more sex, which makes for an interesting choice stylistically but not one that feels necessary considering how light the plotting actually is.

Much like the narrative, the lack of detail attributed to the characterisation of the central pairing is frustrating, as it doesn’t allow me to really care about either character. For that reason, I wouldn’t describe either of the pair as successful. Ari is sweet at first in that fish-out-of-water way, which though played out multiple times still gives readers a sense of who he is. He does have a sort of a development arc in the closing chapters, but it doesn’t really have the impact it should. Conversely, I regret to admit that I didn’t understand the character of Orin at any point of the book. He should be, much like Ari, a bit of an archetypal character, in his case the cocky, charismatic and law-breaking pilot who actually cares about his fellow travelers. However, it felt like I was being told by multiple characters what his personality was truly like, courtesy of the audience surrogate role filled by Ari, but what was seen on the pages conflicted with that. More puzzling still was the way Orin spoke, almost ending every sentence being directed at his loved ones with words such as “darling” and “baby”. This was the biggest reason why I struggled to believe his character, as no one would talk and act like that in our world, science-fiction or not, and regardless of what we were told by other characters. Though this book was set up as an epic love story between the pair, it wasn’t interesting enough to keep my attention.

Many critical points have been raised above, but this book does have some merits, most notably its readability. Its length is relatively short and it was also very easy and non-taxing to read, whilst being the type of book you can put down easily and understand where you have got up to upon picking it up again. There was also background information, which I named above, that intrigued me because the ideas were good, which made it all the more frustrating when nothing was explained beyond a surface level. This does mean that any sequel to this book (noted it has been described as the first in its series) has a lot they can build on and can go in any number of directions. The glossary of steampunk terms at the back of the book was also a nice touch, and it would be great if we can see this subgenre be more present and influential in future books in the series.

Ultimately, if you are looking for an easy-to-read book that can whisk you away for a few hours, then Restricted is for you, and you may well enjoy reading about the developing relationship between Ari and Orin. For me personally, it lacked the required detail in many areas to really make me invest in what was going on in front of me, so I probably will not be reading any future books in this series, but I appreciate the author for trying something different with this book.

Star Rating: 2/5

Thank you for reading this review. Restricted is available to purchase on Amazon in either Ebook or hard copy edition. If you liked reading this review, please do like this post and subscribe to the blog if you’re new; you will be notified when new posts are published on this site. If you do have any recommendations of books you think I will enjoy, feel free to leave those in the comments section below!

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