Note* I received this ARC from Ylva publishing in exchange for an honest review.
"Without a Front", the third book in the Alsea series by Fletcher DeLancey, bears a title with meaning if one is familiar with Fletcher DeLancey's other two books describing Alsea and her people, being a type of Star Trekky 'aliens' who are actually mostly human except for some aesthetic differences one can imagine glued on to an actor's face.
This story continues the story of Andira Tal and Salomen Opah and is marked by political detail and a romance between empaths, which is interesting to contemplate. Who here lives their life without any secrets? The story. There are three sets of stories, more or less going on at the same time. The love of two powerful empaths, an inner family betrayal, intrigue along with military missions. There are descriptions of the political life on the planet, with it's castes and inherent tensions between the castes and individuals from being newly associated by the "Protectorate" (Federation) with an inter-planetary alliance which promises new technology and new chances for extreme power and wealth.
The main character is not perfect, makes mistakes, and more solid in my mind because of them. This is still Andira's show, and Salomen (or her powers) is not as fully described.
What the author does right is so right I am surprised the practice is not done more often, more than half the cast of characters are women, all in professional, important roles. The name might not be identifiable immediately but frequently the final pronoun is "her" or "she"which is missing in most literature. The men in the story are treated with respect and one has a constant reinforcement of the Alsean ideal of the freedom of sexuality and equality overall. There is no mention of tolerance, the feeling about any relationship is just a given.
DeLancey writes with a 'you are there' realism, almost as if you were in an elaborate Google Sketch-up illustration. When a character walks into a room, the reader can picture very clearly the room in their minds . Characters are described to a certain point and one can easily drift away from the mains and focus on some of new characters (Vellmar) with their interesting histories.
But, I also found this book to be long winded in many places. Not that it could not be tense, emotional and real in others. I think that with proper editing this story should have been combined with the second book, "The Producer's challenge" with some of the overly descriptive elements pared down.
Regardless. You are on Alsea when you read this, and the story feels real. I encourage you to read all three books. You will know the characters of these people to an intimate degree. Definitely read the "Producer's Challenge" before this title. "The Caphenon" is a back story dealing with an external enemy, not the internal enemies of the 2nd and 3rd.