Overall I thought The Experiment was a pretty fun sci-fi romance. The story follows human Ryker, whose body is altered by human scientists as part of their war against another alien race. The experiments are very much against his will, and to his horror, he and one of the aliens they’re fighting against are ejected into a shuttle and sent to the alien’s planet.
There, Ryker expects a quick death by the aliens’ hands, but instead, is faced with a much gentler treatment than what he experienced by his own kind. He is forced to confront who are his real enemies, and also who he is now in this new altered body.
I am a fan of the “forced marriage” trope when it’s not rape-y, and thankfully, that’s where this story falls as Ryker and his fellow alien captive Seral have to “join” to survive because of what the scientists had injected into them before they were released. Seral, who feels a deep connection to his new mate Ryker, understands that Ryker is *not* at the same place as him, nor does he understand any of Seral’s culture, including what it means to join, so he patiently and carefully enfolds Ryker into his world without pressuring him.
Ryker is suffering from severe PTSD from his trauma during his years of being experimented on. Even with his trauma, the story isn’t *too dark* because those painful experiences are not detailed and graphic, which I appreciated. If you dislike non-con and torture like me, know that The Experiment is not too graphic, and much of the focus is on his recovery and adjustment to his new world and to his new alien husband.
In this way, the book reminded me of the movie Avatar since it shared some similar traits of entering into (and falling in love with) an alien world, and how the world you are from may actually be the enemy to watch out for.
As a heads-up: the dynamic between smaller Ryker and larger Seral has kind of a yaoi-esque seme/uke tone and reading this reminded me of Rob Colton and Rowan McBride and other m/m writers that often focus on the protective larger mate and the protected smaller mate tropes, although the characters here are not as burly & hairy as in Colton’s seminal novel The Timber Pack Chronicles nor did it have muscles bursting out of clothes like in McBride’s works. (Although there were clothes being torn off with claws literally before some sexy times.)
If you are adverse to that school of characters, you may have a harder time with this story. Even as Ryker grows stronger, and faces his fears after his trauma, the dynamic follows that yaoi-esque path. I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of yaoi, so it worked fine with me, but I know some don’t like those tropes, so heads-up.
Even with the seme/uke dynamics, I did really like Seral and Ryker’s chemistry, and I’m a fan of a good healing relationship story. It didn’t fall too hurt/comfort where it was overwhelming on comfort, and I did feel like it was a good level of understanding and space for a character who was very traumatized. It was easy to sympathize with Ryker’s fears of intimacy and trust, which made his slow bloom back to life even nicer to read.
Near the end of the book, some characters were introduced that, to a learned romance reader’s eye, reveals the seeds for future couples, so it looks like this is the first book of a series. For readers who hate cliffhangers (like me), please know that the ending here is satisfying, so even if more books come out, you will not be left hanging here.
This novel was born as a free serial on GayAuthors.org, and there, you can read the second book in the series Adverse Effects for free (although it’s still a WIP, it looks close to being finished.)
Nordwell, under penname Cia, has a bunch of free stories, novellas, and novels on GayAuthors.org, so if you like her style, there’s a lot to check out there (along with her published works.)
Do I recommend this book? I do if you’re a big sci-fi romance fan, and if you’re fine with the big/small traditional yaoi dynamic. Nordwell did introduce some cool word-building, including the culture of joining, and how it’s different on Seral’s world, and I thought that was pretty neat.
Will I read the next book? Yes, I would read the next book. I’m intrigued enough about Seral’s world and with following the future of the other characters who were introduced in the book.
Overall, a fun, intriguing imaginative sci-fi read with a good mix of romance and action (and sexy times.)
Review first posted to Boys in our Books.