I pitched this book to one of my reading Discord servers as "if Jessie Mihalik wrote erotic romance." I didn't mention that the FMC reminded me of Inara from Firefly, but that too!
Mara is the last Balti temptress, a wealthy woman from a destroyed and colonized planet and culture who's far more complex than anyone gives her credit for. She's been in a relationship for years with a man she trusts and relies on, but she comes to realize it's not love and that he's not the person she thought. When he leaves for a lengthy business trip, he forces a former soldier (and secret prince) in servitude to be her bodyguard and to provide her with sex.
The whole book is saturated with sex. It opens with something of a "prove how much you love me" public sex scene that Mara has to observe and then replicate the scene with Cal, the aforementioned bodyguard.
There are complicated politics throughout, with multiple levels of colonization and corporate greed, but it's Mara's efforts to reconnect with her Balti heritage that makes that plot so compelling. Some of the big reveals are obvious to the reader, but it's easy to understand why Mara wouldn't see the truth given the trauma bond she and Jerk Boyfriend had for years.
Dare also explores consent and sex, shame and freedom. This is a high heat book for sure and some of the dynamics aren't explicitly consensual. It's complicated, however, by the fact that the characters involved are genuinely attracted to each other and do want the sex. It's just the circumstances (sex bodyguard? Balti temptress who is expected to always be ready to engage?) that make things messy. Cal's culture is what I think of as Puritanical, driven by business interests and very repressed. He's not like that, of course. Mara's culture is all about pleasure in all forms. It was really interesting and the sex made me think.
In short, this is a very spicy sci-fi romance that will scratch that itch you have after you read Jessi Mihalik or watch Firefly. More spice, more romance, more direct acknowledgment of the impacts of colonialism.
I received a digital ebook copy of this book for review via NetGalley but read an audiobook via Hoopla.
CW: genocide (past, discussed quite a bit on page), imprisonment and hunger, worker abuse and indentured servitude, extractive production killing a planet, attempted sexual assault (MCs are attacked in an alley), sex-shaming (countered A LOT). There’s some weird consent stuff that made me go hmm but I feel it didn’t cross the line into yuck. YMMV.