By Meg Pechenick
I found this novel as a "free read" on Netgalley! (it's also available on Amazon)
25 years ago, the Vardeshi landed on Earth. They weren't impressed with us lowly humans (understandable) and left us to our own devices. Avery is a grad student linguist who is given an assignment by her profession to study the Vardeshi language using a program he developed over the last two decades. Avery gets to work and, a few years later, the Vardeshi return. The story features Avery's journey as a student of their language to a student of their culture.
It's an engrossing read that has a light, easy prose.
[the following is the same as the review on NetGalley]
If you prefer/don’t mind a hard sci-fi with minimal action scenes, this would fit the bill. It’s a drawn-out, first contact story that provides the reader a mimetic experience of learning to live with an alien race. The first quarter of the novel passes without even seeing an alien, but this restraint is a strength of the novel. We learn about the Vardeshi as Avery does.
Avery is a likeable character who makes reasonable choices. She was an interesting heroine because she’s rather bland; her normality serves to make her relatable. A brash, argumentative protagonist would have altered the course of the story quite drastically, likely detracting from the exploratory tone.
Yet you’re forced to suspend your disbelief that the Vardeshi would be so human – there is no explanation regarding convergent evolution or shared DNA that explains this similarity. But, it didn’t take away from the story and likely would be less jarring to those who don’t read a lot of science fiction. It is possible aliens could look similar to us, so I let it go.
Aside from the last 20%, there is not a lot of tension in the novel and the plot played out almost exactly as I expected it to, minor details aside (this did not lower my enjoyment though – there weren’t a lot of ways for it to go once it started). I found the very restrained romance intriguing. But it was obvious from the get-go that Avery had an attraction, so why it was a revelation to her confused me. I had hoped for bit more intrigue in that regard once it was introduced as an option (cross-species illicit affairs are a favorite trope of mine).
Overall, it was a very enjoyable read that I couldn’t put down. The depth into the Vardeshi culture was well-developed and the story moved at an easy pace. You felt Avery’s disappointments and rallied for her successes. I look forward to the sequel.