It’s June 1969 in New York City. The moon is in the second house, Jupiter has aligned with Mars, and private investigator Tim Coates is having his own personal summer of love. A gorgeous blonde girl hires him to find her missing mother. Finally, his life is starting to look like Nero Wolfe’s!
But Ellie Quartern and her mom are not your standard damsels in distress. They share an eerie and destructive secret that warps hearts and destroys lives. As Tim digs deeper into their dark private world, he’s not in a mystery, but a horror novel. And he discovers that the Rolling Stones were wrong. Even when you get what you want, you just might find that it’s not at all what you need.
Speak To Our Desires by Brenda W. Clough is one of the allocations for our Wayward Stars team and Izzy from The Shaggy Shepherd and I were the first ones to read it. We read 20-25% before giving our verdict as we try to do with all of the allocations to give them a fair chance. When we compared notes, we found that most of our points lined up so I combined them into one thing.
I’ll be honest and say that most of the Wayward Stars enjoy the science-fiction genre but by no means are we what we would consider experts on the genre. We generally look for the usual elements and tropes (alien invasion, first contact, space, future tech) when we’re looking for sci-fi. Another thing that I’d consider one of the more interesting aspects of sci-fi is the exploration of what it means to be human. Or what sentient AI might be. I love exploring more philosophical themes and I think science fiction is a great genre to do so.
That said, science fiction is much more than cyborgs and aliens. Sometimes it’s more subtle. I don’t always see why a book is classified as science fiction when it is. In the end, it’s a marketing label picked by someone and it’s not a set of rules every sci-fi book has to follow to qualify. So we might make errors. We’re only humans after all.
I’m sharing this because in the first quarter of Speak To our Desires we didn’t see any specific sci-fi elements. Ellie and her mother have a gift but it feels more like fantasy, a gift that lets you know what the other person desires. It feels more satanic than alien. Maybe there will be a surprise twist at the end, I don’t know. But at this point, I don’t want to classify it as sci-fi. And this is a science fiction competition…
When we look at the story itself, the main characters are Ellie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s looking for her mother, and the forty-year-old private investigator Tim. She wants his help to find her mom whom she hasn’t seen for a couple of years. He’s reluctant because most of the time minors can’t pay. But Ellie has more than enough from her modelling gigs. In between their negotiating and getting to know the case, we see parts of Ellie’s childhood. It isn’t fun, her gift causes problems and her mother isn’t exactly reliable.
I had a hard time emotionally connecting with Ellie because I didn’t really got a grasp of her personality. And Tim… Tim is lusting after a seventeen-year-old model. That’s a big no. We felt this was really close to crossing a line and we both didn’t want to read on. I have zero patience for a man salivating over a girl half his age, let alone a minor. It creates an unlikeable character. And having one is fine when the other character is one you can relate to, or are interested in. That wasn’t the case with Ellie.
I’m not sure if this was due to the writing style, which felt dry to me, or if she really has no personality aside from the desire to know where her mom is. The editing of the book was fine and I got through it pretty quickly, aside from the content. So it might redeem the bad start with a killer ending, I don’t know. But as it stands, Izzy and I have both given a No to this book. If this wasn’t a science fiction competition, I might have given it more of a chance.