Title: Free Chocolate
Author(s): Amber Royer
Series: Chocoverse #1
Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera
Published: June 5th by Angry Robot
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None 😦
Sex on page: None
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
In the far future, chocolate is Earth’s only unique commodity one that everyone else in the galaxy is willing to kill to get their hands, paws and tentacles on
Latina culinary arts student, Bo Benitez, becomes a fugitive when she’s caught stealing a cacao pod from one of the heavily-defended plantations that keep chocolate, Earth’s sole valuable export, safe from a hungry galaxy.
Forces array against her including her alien boyfriend and a reptilian cop. But when she escapes onto an unmarked starship things go from bad to worse: it belongs to the race famed throughout the galaxy for eating stowaways! Surrounded by dangerous yet hunky aliens, Bo starts to uncover clues that the threat to Earth may be bigger than she first thought.
Rating: 4 stars
I knew from the description “space opera meets soap opera” that this was going to be a wild ride, and I was right. The blurb summarizes the basic plot, but the full summary of all the different plotlines, deals, threats and characters would be much longer and I’m not even going to attempt it.
This book was somehow funny and serious at the same time. The idea of chocolate being such an important commodity seems silly, but the way this resource was treated both by Earthlings and aliens was terrifyingly real. There were also some really tense scenes where I was worried for Bo’s life and genuinely couldn’t figure out how she’s going to get out of this one. And of course, this book couldn’t miss the dramatic reveal about somebody’s parentage towards the end – although it was wrapped up quite quickly.
Yet, it was a little difficult to take the antagonists seriously, because other than the faceless company, everyone was presented in a sympathetic manner. In the end, Bo pretty much worked together and made up with everyone, which was a little strange. Not to mention that thanks to the prologue, one of the twists was literally obvious from the first chapter and it was really only a twist for the characters – but maybe that was intentional? I’m not sure.
I loved all the different aliens and learning about their culture (“Have you any complaints?” is a sentence that now gives me goosebumps), especially the Krom – the Krom are the people of Bo’s boyfriend, and their eye colour changes based on their emotion. Which is super inconvenient, but also kind of neat.
As for languages, mixing so many of them was both really clever and sometimes jarring. I’m not sure if Bo’s speech was accurate for bilingual people who actually grow up using several languages (I speak fluent English but don’t use it with my family or local friends), but she was dropping a lot of random Spanish words into the English text and it took a while to get used to. I did like that when she wasn’t fluent in an alien language, then the speech in that language was mostly translated to English for the reader, with a few alien words that Bo didn’t understand staying in that language. This way Bo and the reader both had to guess the meaning of the word from context. I also really, REALLY liked the way Tyson spoke, and how his expressions sounded strange in translation but were still very visual.
I loved the characters, especially Bo, the protagonist, Brill, her boyfriend, Jeska, a later ally, and Chestla, who goes from dorm RA to sworn protector. (Chestla deserves everything good in the world tbh.) I also liked the romance between Bo and Brill.
While I was kind of expecting a cheating plotline from the “soap opera” descriptor, I was still disappointed when it happened. “Fortunately”, it is only a brief kiss that is addressed later, and not an affair that goes on for long. Later on there was another love triangle, but no cheating happened. I really wish they had solved it with polyamory because I liked both the guys and their dynamic, but I guess that wasn’t the direction the writer imagined.
Overall, soap opera meets space opera is a good description for this book. It shouldn’t always be taken too seriously, but it was fun, full of adventure and romance, and likeable characters.