Review: Cottonwood by R Lee Smith

Reviewed by Jen

I’ve been on a sci-fi romance kick lately and this one showed up in my Goodreads recommendations with a pretty high average rating. I was intrigued because this the same author who wrote The Last Hour of Gann, which I found riveting. The only thing holding me back: roaches. (DON’T CLICK AWAY!!)

If you’re familiar with Gann, you know the alien hero in that book is a lizardman and that was enough to swallow. Here, the alien hero is a roachman and that might be the single unsexist thing I’ve ever heard of in my life. So I read a bunch of reviews. I stewed on it, then I bought the book. And it was so very good.

The roach thing is real, and the author never lets you forget about it. The thing is, even though I find no living thing as disgusting as a roach, I not only adored this hero, I rooted for the romance 1000%. That is some pretty amazing character building, folks.

The heroine here is Sarah, a down-on-her-luck 20-something with chronic unemployment and an unconscious habit of singing all the time. She thinks she’s finally found her calling when some new jobs open up as caseworkers for the aliens at Cottonwood, the camp where they’re housed. No one outside of the camps know much about the species, even though they landed on Earth 20 years before. They’ve been totally segregated and Sarah loves the idea of being a liaison to help them integrate into the human population.

She learns quickly that’s not what the camp is about. The conditions are terrible; the handlers are cruel. Still, she holds on to her convictions, trying to help the aliens who have every reason to hate her kind.

Samson is one of her clients. Right away, she’s taken by his adorable son and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Samson’s only goal is to free his people to get them back home, but he sees something special in Sarah and can’t bring himself to view her through the same lens as the humans around her.

Like Gann, this is tough reading. No doubt, humans are the villains here. The military guys at the camp do terrible things… and not just to the “bugs,” but to Sarah once they realize her sympathies. There’s no rape here, but the abuse levels are pretty hard-core.

The romance is a super-slow burn—because, yeah, the hero is a roachman—but the emotional connection feels reasonable and true. I had so many feels, and somehow I wasn’t even grossed out by the sex.

If you can’t get past the bug thing, I totally get it. But if you like this genre… if you liked Gann… I highly encourage you to try this one too. I didn’t want to put it down.

Rating: A

Click to purchase: Amazon

by R Lee Smith
Release Date: February 28, 2013

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