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Signal Boost

Fiction  |  Novel  |  LGBTQ Romance
158 pages
Ebook Only
ISBN 9781426899881
ASIN B00T3L7726
First Edition
Review Copy: Ebook
Carina Press
Ontario, Canada
Available HERE
Review by Elisabeth Blackwell

One of the things I’m most passionate about in my reading and blogging is representing the wealth of diversity present in the romance publishing industry these days. Not that there aren’t still major problems, and things that need to be taken care of and improved upon. But the diversity is there, if you’re willing to see it. Obviously, a huge part of diversity in publishing is the insurgence of LGBTQ+ romance. I am, by no means, an expert, but I’m attempting to become one, slowly but surely. I’m excited to do reviews for The Spark on LGBTQ+ romance because romance novels are still—well, they’re sneered at a bit.

Signal Boost is the second in Alyssa Cole’s series set in a post-apocalyptic United States. They have a wonderful, intimate, claustrophobic feel to them, even when they cover literal miles, as they do in this installment. As you find out in this novel, a solar flare caused an electromagnetic catastrophe on Earth, and now everyone is without power of any sort. Cole really utilizes this sense of disconnect to add a feeling of danger to every moment of the novel. Even when they aren’t facing shotguns, which they do, you still have a sense of danger because you don’t know what’s going on outside their personal space bubble.

I looked up at the brilliant night sky. Auroras had blazed for weeks in the aftermath of whatever caused the blackout, but they’d all but faded away now. The universe was unfurled above me like… like nothing. There was nothing to compare it to, no pithy metaphor that could describe that swath of blinking, twinkling, all-encompassing starlight. The Milky Way seared across the sky, unimaginable numbers of stars and planets reflecting their light toward me.

Without light pollution dimming their brilliance, the stars dominated the night. They seemed to press closer, wrapping around Earth like some delegation of curious observers who were also eager to know the fate of this forsaken planet.
(p. 16)

This installment centers around John (Jang-Wan) Seong, the younger son of a Korean-American family. The first novel in the series, Off the Grid, was the love story of his older brother, Gabriel, and his best friend, Arden. However, this novel stands pretty well on its own two feet. Cole does a good job of giving you the full backstory, or as much as you need to know, without bogging it down or boring readers who have read Off the Grid. It’s while he’s out tending to their apocalypse garden one night that he runs into a veggie thief.

But the look in her eyes so clearly screamed, “You are alone and I feel sorry for you,” that I couldn’t stand it.
(p. 14)

Mykhail, AKA the veggie thief, is a Ukrainian-American astrophysicist. He’s been on his own since the solar flare and, as we soon discover, is trying to get to the university he attended to meet with the professor/mentor there who specialized in this sort of thing. He and John have an instant connection—or at least they do on John’s end of things. I will say that there is a bit of Love At First Sight happening with John and Mykhail, but it didn’t bother me. They’re very attracted to one another, and frankly, if it begins because of the high-stress, highly emotional, intense situation—well, that’s pretty natural. The relationship develops from this initial spark through a series of revealing conversations.

“You know, if I had to be kidnapped by cannibals eating any survivor who stumbles into their garden, I’m glad it was you guys,” he said. “You’re nice cannibals.”

I couldn’t fight it any longer. I smiled back. “We’ll be sure to put that on your grave marker. Mykhail GardenGnome—Lean, Tender, Eaten by Nice Cannibals,” I said.
(p. 42)

This novel also tackles diversity in a way that I don’t see a lot of in romance novels—Mykhail identifies as asexual. I wish a bit more had been devoted to Mykhail’s confusion or discovery of his sexuality through his connection to John, but it’s a bit limited by the fact that the novel is told in first-person point of view from John’s perspective. We discover through him that Mykhail identifies/identified as asexual up to this point, and not because he’s a dork that couldn’t get laid. He genuinely was uninterested in forming a sexual relationship with anyone. It’s such a relief to see asexuality represented in a genre that seems a counterpoint to that, and to see a person come to terms with having to question his sexuality, without denying or demeaning that sexuality.

“You’ve got a pretty good technique for someone who’s led an asexual life until now. Did you watch instructional videos or something?” Finally, finally, I got a smile out of him.

“I said, ‘pretty much asexual.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t have a sex drive. I just didn’t feel like acting on it with others. I’ve done plenty of experimentation on which techniques felt best to me.” He gave a short, embarrassed burst of laughter. “It’s nice to have an outside opinion, though. Like I have my own personal peer review board.”
(p. 207)

The relationship between John and Mykhail really develops as they share more and more of what makes them the people they are in this post-apocalyptic landscape. Mykhail has been a lonely island, with no one to confide in, no one to worry to, no one to listen to the pain and fears he has. To say much more would be to reveal some big plot points and huge aspects of Mykhail’s story that should really remain surprises for readers.

Overall, this is a lovely, post-apocalyptic story that atypically relies more on the relationships than on the landscape to drive the story forward and intensify the situation. There are moments of high stress and action, so I don’t want to give the impression that it’s some dystopian, 200-page therapy session. But I personally loved that it was the relationships that escalated the tension of the situation.

Elisabeth Blackwell is a 26-year-old woman and a recent graduate with a degree, not at all befittingly, in Accounting. Growing up queer in a small Southern town led her to escaping to the wonderful world of literature; discovering LGBTQ+ romance was like finding a soft place to fall. A Louisiana native, Chicago-bound this fall, Elisabeth also runs the romance novel review blog, Duke Duke Goose, and can be found on Twitter.

• This review was submitted in its entirety by the reviewer. The book was not submitted to Alternating Current, and we are not aware of any relationship between the author, publisher, or reviewer. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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