Shelf Love

093. Ice Ice (Planet) Baby: Barbarian's Hope


Short Description

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon: it may be a Tik-Tok sensation now, but over a year ago it was a podcast sensation. Dani Lacey invited me as a guest on her podcast, Ice Planet Podcast, to discuss Barbarian's Hope, a second chance romance between two very tall blue humanoid-ish aliens with horns whose love life is controlled by a parasite. This is an edited version of that episode.

CW: loss of a child, grief, depression.


Show Notes

093. Ice Ice (Planet) Baby: Barbarian's Hope

Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00]Hello. And welcome to episode 93 of Shelf Love a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes, the popular romance genre within the broader, critical discussion of identity, culture, and love.

I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm sharing an edited version of my conversation with Dani Lacey, which originally released as an episode of her podcast about the Ice Planet Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon.

I was thrilled to be invited as a guest on the Ice Planet Podcast. I joined Dani to read Barbarian's Hope by Ruby Dixon, book 11 of the series.

This episode first aired on March 17th, 2020. And dang, it feels like a zillion years ago.

This whole series is admittedly bonkers, but this particular book is slightly less bonkers and focuses on a nuanced emotional journey. It's a second chance romance and here's the content warning. The couple is still processing the loss of their kit, AKA baby.

So if that or grief generally is not something you'd like to hear a discussion about right now, I would suggest that you skip this episode

Just a quick reminder that you can support Shelf Love on Patreon. One month in we've got a hopping Discord chat going on. That's a private message server that you can join if you become a patron, and I'd love to welcome you to the community. You can support Shelf Love starting at just three dollars a month by visiting patreon.com/ Shelf Love.

I'd like to thank my $20 a month patrons: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith and John Jacobson. Hear your name on the podcast by joining the Joyful Hag tier or see your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any time. Again, that's patreon.com/Shelflove

You can also support Shelf Love by giving it a rating or review on apple podcasts. And by sharing it with a friend, someone who enjoys critically engaging with romance.

One more note for context, before we jump into the podcast episode, if you haven't read the books in the series, the basic premise is that a bunch of earth women are abducted by bad aliens and their ship crashes. I think on the ice planet, which is inhabited by the Sa-Khui a tribe of quote unquote barbarians who are like seven foot tall, blue humanoid ish aliens. The Sa-Khui take in all of these earth women. And this basically is fortuitous, because for reasons that I forget, there are very few females who are young and able to give birth on this planet. On this planet there's this parasitic worm called the Khui that any living creature on this planet needs to take in to survive and the Khui basically controls who the individuals are paired with as mates.

It's all very complicated and all very problematic. And don't you worry. We discussed that. This particular book actually [00:03:00] happens to be a romance between two of the Sa-Khui. So it's a little bit of an odd one out in the series as a whole, because most of the relationships are between the Sa-Khui men and an earth woman.

Hope this helps orient you a bit in this conversation. Obviously this podcast originally aired in the context of nine previous episodes that covered books and discussions all about this. So I hope you enjoy the ride.    

Dani: Hi everyone. My name is Dani. This is the Ice Planet Podcast where we read every book in Ruby Dixon's Ice Planet Barbarian series and I discuss it with a different host each week.

Before we get started, a content warning. Barbarians Hope,  which is the book we read and discussed in this episode, deals with the loss of a child, an infant specifically. The book touches on it. My cohost, Andrea from the Shelf Love Podcast, and I talk about it. It comes up. If that is something you are sensitive to, or you are just not comfortable listening to, I totally understand. That's why I'm saying this now. I want everyone to be aware and know what's happening. We don't get into too much detail, but it is a very big theme and it's what breaks up our couple initially in this story. I just want to make sure no one's in a situation where that's not good for them. So, let's get to it. This is Barbarian's Hope. I am joined by Andrea Martucci from the Shelf Love Podcast. We have a great discussion about forgiveness, grief, all of that. Had you heard of the series before?

Andrea Martucci: I had been following along with your Twitter account, I think. Either I already followed you or enough other people were re-tweeting you that I felt like I was following you already. And so I hadn't read the book before, any of the books in the series before, but I feel like I had an awareness of it and had listened to a couple episodes.

Dani: That's awesome. It's really, I feel like in the past year, blown up. I feel like it was around for a bit, a few people were like, "Hey, have you read this?" And then it just has blown up recently and I hear a lot more people talking about it.

Andrea Martucci: When did the series start getting published?

Dani: The first book was published in April, 2015.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, okay. So it's actually been, oh my God.

Like five, five years.

I mean like these books are not super long, so it's not too surprising that she's been so prolific in such a short period of time, but.

Yeah, they are wild. Although, I get the sense from not having read them, but from listening to the episodes about the earlier books  that the world building itself is pretty wild. But I feel like this book was not that wild.

Dani: This was one of the more tame ones cause I think it dealt with so much emotional stuff. Yeah.

Yeah. It was a slow burn and then it really picked up. So before we get into it, I realized I never introduced you. Hello everyone. This is

Andrea Martucci from the Shelf Love Podcast. Welcome.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Dani: Before we get going, would you like to just share with everyone what the Shelf Love Podcast is about and what you do there?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, absolutely.

So Shelf Love is a podcast and on every episode I'm [00:06:00] joined by a guest and we discuss a new romance novel worth reading. So we use the text as a jumping off point to have a critical discussion about identity, relationships, and romance novels as a genre. I have a lot of romance novelists on as guests, some reviewers. I had a friend on who is not a romance reader, we don't do book recaps so much as we really dig in to, this book talks about this and we're gonna, quote things and we're going to talk about it, but it's more an excuse to talk about the bigger things.

And I have a fairly academic perspective on stuff because I enjoy that. I'm not an academic,  but I love to talk to academics, but I also like to play around with the format.

Dani: So we read Barbarians Hope and as you hinted at, not as wacky as some of the earlier ones. some of the other ones, as you may have gathered, bone dildos and kidnapping, but this one is more emotional.

I think I was reading and I was like, this is Ruby Dixon's take a second chance romance on this ice planet.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I have to imagine that, again, like the world itself is pretty fantastical and interesting and lends itself to these wild situations. And I get the feeling that in these later books, she's starting to branch out into exploring more nuanced topics.

But one of the questions you had in here is why do I like the series? And so this is, to be clear, my first and only interaction with the actual text of the series. I really like that this whole series is just unabashedly fantasy.

Like what would it be like if you could take women from our world that readers can identify with and drop them in a world where there's a whole bunch of giant strapping dudes who love giving oral sex, don't have all the ingrained, toxic masculinity and misogynistic socialization from our world. Plus have genitalia that resemble a clit stimulating vibrator

Dani: Own it. Go all in.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think the other thing like with the Khui is what would it be like to not have to wonder if you're meant to be with someone because there's this little alien parasite that's going to make it abundantly clear that this person is your fated mate.

Dani: And she plays with that a lot and I've probably repeated myself because I've said this, but it's one of the things I like most about it  beacause the worm will become a plot device at different points of the conflict of the relationship. Sometimes, they'll get together first and then they worry "what if the khui matches me up with someone else?" Other times it'll match them up immediately, they don't like each other, but this khui said they are destined to be together and they've got to figure it out.

So I think she's really good with that. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. It is really interesting because I think part of the fantasy is that these men on this planet respect and cherish every woman and prioritize female pleasure. And so we don't have to worry that these women will be paired with an abusive man and forced to stay with them because of the Khui, because in this world, all of the men are just like relentlessly supportive and protective.

Dani: This one's weird because there's this whole [00:09:00] separate side story with Claire and Bek that sort of gets touched on that sort of deals with that. Which is, I think, as close as this book ever gets to a quote unquote abusive relationship.

Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah. I did get shades of that. Like that was not a great relationship, but also that was not a khui sanctioned relationship.

Dani: There you go. You are bringing so much insight. I love it when people who have not read a lot of books in the series come on because they bring such a unique perspective.

So as you touched on, this was your first foray into it. Was there anything you had questions about?  I jumped in mid series too, my first book was book six, but I was really surprised at how well I was able to, for the most part, get ahold on how things worked. Was that the same for you?


 

Andrea Martucci: I don't know, again, I listened to episodes where you've already covered a lot of the world building. So I think I had less questions and some of the literary devices that are used to show the otherness. So in this book, both characters are Sa-khui. They spell house like H O W S E or something like that. And the spelling of some of the names of the earth people like Stacy, in her head Asha calls her S T A Y - S E E or something like that.

So things like that, I feel like I was prepared for this is their interpretation of earth language words for things. Like, the whole village structure and their social structure being influenced by the earth people and them thinking it's all a little weird, but going along with it. I don't know. I feel like it's.  really inventive and interesting, but also in other ways, straightforward.

Dani: Yeah. I don't think the first book is a good one to jump in on. I said that before but I love that you can just jump in and not feel too lost. So we're skipping to the book discussion and it dealt with some heavy things and I would love to hear your thoughts about them. Let's start out with our couple. This is Asha's book. Asha, for the longest time, was the tribes only single lady and so she was very popular. She had her pick of the men. She could go jump from fur to fur. She was living the life and then she resonated to Hemalo and we get, I think the impression that he wasn't the, well, I mean, I think she said that straight out, so it's not even an impression. He wouldn't have been her first choice.

Yeah, he is the tribe tanner. He's a little bit more quieter. He's like the artsy barbarian, which I love

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. He's like the crafter.

Dani: Yeah. He's  got a gentler soul. He's not a hunter.  And so they resonated, they had a baby and they lose their baby shortly after she's born.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It sounded like the baby or the kit was born prematurely. It sounds like they gestate for a really long time. So multiple seasons too early.

Dani: And so the baby was too small. It couldn't take a khui and as we know, all living things on the planet need the khui to survive. So they lost the baby and as a result, they split apart. In earlier books, the other tribe [00:12:00] members say their resonance has broken, which sounds really bad. And it's really surreal because we've been told in this book, resonance is forever.

You get one resonance mate yada yada yada. We are given the impression that Asha is basically depressed. She has a depression. When she shows up in earlier books, she's usually always in her bed. She's sleeping. She's surly to the other women, which isn't necessarily a symptom of depression, but I think just the taking to her bed, the social isolation I believe that would be considered.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

I thought that the portrayal of her depression. Even before in this book, really fully understanding why, it was really clear that she was depressed and didn't quite understand it. Like she's basically retreating to her bed and she said, "I'm not truly sleepy, but my furs are a refuge from the world and right now I just want to crawl into them and forget for a few hours again."

And I think I personally had a period in my life, actually while I was pregnant, where I had kind of had some things fall apart in my professional life and I was home a lot and was just like sleeping in really late and not showering.

And at the time I didn't realize I was depressed, but looking back on it, I'm like, oh, I was just so clearly depressed But when you're in it, it's just oh, I'm just so tired. I just you don't want to see people. You don't want to go out, you don't want to do anything. You don't want to talk to anybody.

Everything is exhausting. And so I felt like that portrayal in this book resonated with me personally.

Dani: Yeah. And it showed clearly how it went beyond grief, because she did go through this experience where you can understand if she took to the bed for a few weeks.

Honestly, that would be understandable, but it does show how this is more severe than just grief. She hasn't talked to people, I feel like in seasons, she just feels really drained. She can't emotionally get past this loss she's had and this is bigger than just her grief. It's, she's dealing with something a lot heavier.

Andrea Martucci: It's grief, not only of her the loss of her child, but also the way she has dealt with her grief and the way her partner Hemalo has dealt with his grief. They didn't communicate and the way both of them are dealing with it, it's not lending itself to them communicating, but then she, on top of losing her child, she feels like she has been abandoned by Hemalo. And from, we get his perspective and he thinks he's just giving her space and letting her grieve. And he thinks that his presence is causing her more pain, but it is just contributing to her sense that she can't do the one thing that she wants more than anything.

And, Hemalo doesn't want her anymore because maybe she can't have healthy kits and it's just like a spiral. And unfortunately on this planet, on the ice planet, there doesn't seem to be a good mental health care. There's no therapists. Prior to the earth women coming, it was mostly men and I'm not saying men can't be empathetic and deal with this, but I think the earth women have a little bit better understanding of [00:15:00] mental health and are maybe a little bit better able to help her with that and understand how to help her in that.

But I think I understand. It's how she needs help. She needs help getting pulled out of the situation she's in. She can't like will herself to not grieve.

Dani: Ruby Dixon has very rarely done three POV's in one book. Usually it's just two, and in this one, we get three, we get Asha, Hemalo, and Claire who is I would say the catalyst that sort of helps pull Asha back into the tribe.

I wanted to go back to something else you said about just really clearly differentiating their methods, how they both grieved differently.

Asha was a bit more I don't want to say confrontational because that also sounds judgy, but she pushed Hemalo away. She sniped. She said mean things that she admits to herself she did not mean, but she wanted to push him away.

And then when he does finally leave, she first is mad at herself for doing that and also mad at him for abandoning her. And he was a bit quieter in his grief. He didn't talk about it. He didn't tell her why he was leaving. He left because " I'm causing you pain, so I'm going to leave," and they never, at any point had any discussion about any of this.

Andrea Martucci: I think they're both very defensive. Like she feels of course he doesn't want me anymore and I don't want to talk to anybody right now so I'll push you away. If he goes away because she pushes him away, then it both confirms her sense that he doesn't want her and that she's a failure and that she's no good for anything anyways. Also though, if she has pushed him away, there's a little bit of but also I pushed him away. And I think on his side, he feels like she never wanted to be mated to me anyways. Like I was a surprise and I think through the course of this book, they are actually a really good pairing because Asha is a little bit more like fiery and argumentative and whatever. She needs a partner to balance that out and be the one to rein her in.

I don't mean that in a gendered way. Sometimes  partners  just need to balance each other out in that way and be a calming presence for her. And they are a really good pair, but I think Hemalo has that insecurity as well. Like she never wanted me anyways. And the best thing I can do is leave her alone. Like, That's actually the best thing for her, but it's not true, obviously.

Dani: After we meet with Asha and we learn about the holiday, we do switch to Hemalo and we do see that he has been trying to care for her in his own sort of like hands-off way.

So one of the men come up to him and he wants to pay him with some meat he's hunted and he's like no, give it to Asha to make sure she's eating well. He thinks to himself, she's looking to thin and she's looking too gaunt. So he is still in his own way, trying to care for his mate, even though they've split apart. While Asha and Hemalo are dealing with their whole thing, Claire decides, or the women decide, we're going to have a secret Santa.

Andrea Martucci: They're basically like let's put together every holiday tradition we can. This is basically the [00:18:00] Christmas spectacular of the Ice Planet Barbarians series, and they try to make it like multicultural. Cause I believe one of the human women is Jewish.


 

But I do like that it's not religious celebration. It's more just like cultural traditions. Like how can we take these cultural traditions and make them fun and simplify them with, like what do we have available to us and what's going to make sense to these people who do not understand. There's some funny bits with like wait, and then this guy comes down a chimney, don't the presents get burned? And it's funny because truly a lot of these things are like, yeah, that's messed up.

Dani: Yeah. There are very valid criticism or observations, not criticisms, about what we do every year around Christmas.

There's one novella where she tries to introduce the concept of mistletoe and the men are thoroughly confused and then they're just holding random plants over their heads, cause they just want to get kissed.

Andrea Martucci: There's a whole thing with no poison or

Dani: I think that goes back to the mistletoe. So the way the men see it, mistletoe is poisonous, right?

So the way the men see it like, "Oh, are you kissing them? So they don't poison you?" And the women are like no, but that's the version that men go with. They're like, jokingly oh, kiss me so I don't poison you with this plant. And so it takes on this oh, it's no poison day.

Andrea Martucci: It's hilarious. I think that's there what Ruby Dixon is doing is really interesting. Like she never forgets that these people have never been exposed to human culture before this point.

So taking that sort of outsider view of everything these people are talking about and just treating like completely normal. We put some mistletoe up and then we kiss under it and just taking a step back and being like what the fuck? Who came up with this?

Some of these traditions may make sense on earth or  in certain contexts like religious contexts and, historical periods and whatever, but why would they ever make sense on the ice planet?

Dani: They don't And I'm glad that she like goes all in. These are not just really buff blue humans. They are a completely different species.

So this whole gift exchange is why Claire reaches out to Asha to begin with. She's in her cave with her mate,  Ereven,  and  he's like, Hey, Asha's having a hard time and I think you should, have her help you with this whole thing.

He's the one who kind of says it first, explicitly in the book, Asha needs a friend. I think he said something like, "She's been so lonely since the humans have arrived. She used to have all the males to herself and then when she was almost over her grieving, many new females arrive. They're all friends with each other and have their own customs. They share stories and talk and do chores together. They sit together by the fire. They are all friends and it is something Asha has never had." So this is what plants, the idea in Claire's head  to really reach out to Asha and make her feel more a part of the tribe..

Andrea Martucci: I liked the way that came about in the story because Ereven had been working with Hemalo on a roof and so they had talked and it was clear that Hemalo was worried about Asha. And so I feel like the way that [00:21:00] conversation came about was really organic.

And what I really thought was interesting is, there was actually an author's note about why Claire was given a point of view in this book and I highlighted it.  This is Ruby Dixon  saying "I felt like part of Asha's story was that she'd walled herself off from the tribe and the new human population for so long that she was more alone than ever and I wanted to give her a friend," and I love that. Asha says at various points in this friendship, she feels like she's a good balance to Claire. Like Claire is quiet and she likes Claire. She's not too fond of some of the other humans who like talk too much according to her.

And so her and Claire are good pair. And also I think what she needed more than anything at this point of her recovery or like her healing from this really traumatic event was she needed to feel needed. And this whole holiday thing, It gave her an opportunity to be useful and reintegrate.

Like, it's so sweet. There's this point where Claire first comes to her and Claire says, "oh, Ereven said that you're great at getting people to listen to you and I'm not so great at that sort of thing." And Asha says, "I had no idea he thought so highly of me. Warmth blooms in my belly. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps this is something I would be good at." And she really did need a friend and then she needed to feel useful and this is  the perfect opportunity for her to reintegrate and to go around and be talking to people and feel useful.

Dani: Yes. It's really sweet when you read how she  perks up at the idea of taking part in this project and like she decided she's going to make sure it's a great success and it's just really, it's really endearing. You're really cheering for her. So they start going out and recruiting. I don't know why I picture them both with clipboards. There are no clipboards on the ice planet, but they just, it's very cute how like official they both are. They're going out telling people about the gift giving exchange and partnering people up. And so we'd go with them as they go to Hemalo and he is he's not here for it. He's not here for this gift exchange thing. He basically is like, if you have time to lean, you have time to clean then.

That's what he says to them. And this is where we see how Asha is a good fit, as you were saying, because Claire gets cowed by him instantly, and Asha's not having it. She's like we're doing this to improve the morale. It's the brutal season. Everyone's  stir-crazy and restless. And so he goes along with it. Basically he says, if it's important to Asha, it's important to me. And that's what convinces him.

Andrea Martucci: I think that he actually feels defensive like, oh, they're like roping Asha into this absurd thing and he's like feeling defensive for her. And then he catches on. He's like, oh, okay. No, this is great. It's good for her to feel needed. And she needs a friend. Okay. And then he starts to go along with it, but he's like, sure I'll make presents for this other person, but don't you worry, this is in his head, I'm going to make even better presents for Asha.

Dani: Yes. Cause he gets partnered up with Maylak who, we get a little hint of this later when she talks about the loss of her baby, Maylak was the other single lady of the tribe. So  she says, she's always felt maybe a sense of competitiveness with Maylak.

And [00:24:00] then after she lost her baby, she felt a bit of resentment because she's like  did she do as much as she could to save her? And I think she realizes it's a little unfair because her baby was so small, but she still has that. It's not rational. And it's, it makes sense. She still does have that bit of resentment.

Andrea Martucci: So the situation was that the Sa-khui, there were very few women of childbearing age to be mated to. And so that's how Asha grew up as the thing that makes you special is just that you exist. And, she took advantage of that and enjoyed the attention.

But I believe,  basically there's this idea that what made her special was her ability to bear children and be mated to somebody. So first of all, she loses her kit, which is like blow number one. Like the one thing that we thought you were good for, you can't do. And then all these human women start showing up.

And so now she's not even special as a sexual partner.  I feel like it's just compounding and I feel like part of Asha's journey in this book was realizing that her worth in this world in life was not like just as, a maker of children. And that what made her special was not just that she was like a woman on this planet.

In addition, she really does want to be a mother.  That is really important to her, but I think just like growing her sense of self to include other things that make her who she is and worthwhile and worth loving, in addition to her desire to nurture a child and care for others, that she intrinsically had value.

Dani: Asha before they go over to see him, starts slashing and ripping her own roof. And when it happens, even though we're in her perspective, we still don't get why she's doing it.

Andrea Martucci: So she says right before that, "I think of Hemalo and how he needs to feel needed, how I have not given that to him, how strange things are between us. I get up out of bed, had move to the wall where the teepee top is tightly lashed down and begin to pick the seams apart."

Dani: Okay. So I guess I skimmed over that.  But there is this moment that I want to read, like when she's discussing the secret Santa exchange with Hemalo  and Hemalo was thinking to himself, "Ask me to return, I beg silently. Tell me that you miss me in your furs, that you miss the warmth of our bodies together. Tell me that you miss my smile like I miss yours. All will be forgotten in an instant and we can be back together tonight, now, in the next moment. But Asha only lift her chin, her eyes narrowing at me. She hears my song and she does not like it." Even though the baby passed away, they're still resonated to each other. So when they get too close, their khuis start a little song and you can tell like they still do we want to be together. It's just their pride and he will apparently happily throw it away if she's the one to say she wants him back.

Andrea Martucci: It's complicated with him because he thinks that it is actually in her best interest for him to not put his pride on the line and ask for her back, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. [00:27:00]

And, but it also is protective for him too. To not put himself out there.

Dani: So basically the big thing that happens that we can probably just get to is Hemalo, I guess, sees the rip in the roof.

He goes, he's looking at the roof. Asha has come into her house too. She sees him there and they begin arguing or, going back and forth when they begin resonating. And Asha, is terrified. And she tells him,  I need time. I can't deal with this right now. And she goes to her room and locks herself away.

Andrea Martucci: The whole resonance and the sort of oh, we basically are cats that have come into heat and we have to fuck This is one of the parts that bothers me on some level. And I don't know how I feel about it.

So we have this fantasy world, but it is a very cis hetero fantasy and it relies a lot on gender essentialism and a gender binary. And at the end of the day, I do not expect one series to be all things to all people, but what if one of the women of childbearing age didn't want to have a child, but she resonates. Like, it's this idea that her body is gonna overrule or more specifically, the khui is going to overrule her own desires and  you just got to have babies now because this parasite says you should.

And I know that in this world, we're supposed to believe that the khui have their best interests at heart. And they're like the matchmakers of this planet. And it's all gonna work out fine. But It's also kind of abusive like, oh no, now you're going to have a baby and

I'm going to torture your body until you go have sex with this guy and he impregnates you like, that's a little problematic.

Dani: I think that's totally valid

Andrea Martucci: And I feel I get conflicted about this and I have a kid I like her a lot. She's great. I'm happy to have her as a member of the family. She was, planned and wanted and all that. But having a kid is a lot of work and very emotionally taxing and physically taxing and all of those things. In this world, I get that nobody's going to become a corporate attorney on the ice planet.

When it comes to career ambitions, it's a different world. Honestly, they're in survival mode and part of survival mode for a species is procreating and having children. But there is an, and I believe some of the other females in this book are like hunters or have more quote unquote careers and contribute in ways beyond just I don't know, bearing children, cooking, gathering food.

And all those things are valuable, but one thing that isn't really explored, do they have like hopes and dreams and career ambitions?

And I'm just imagining myself being dropped on the ice planet. And I do not know if this life would fulfill me.


 

And I totally don't want to sound like I'm being like, oh, why doesn't this book do this? And that. I think these are all just interesting things to explore. And I'm really intrigued to [00:30:00] hear how it's explored in different books. And again, this book,  where you're literally dealing with two original inhabitants of this planet,  is legitimately not the place to explore that.

Dani: I think the fact that she did decide to do a story where neither one of the pairing is human is also reflective of that she's really being aware of the universe she's in and how she can tell those different stories and how she can build on that

because I never expected for the two non-human characters could get their own book.

So I guess on that,  a confession, when I was an earlier romance reader, I used to read some of those racist Cassie Edwards books. They're basically like the Native American white lady books.

And one terrible racist thing they do is the native women, they don't treat them the same way they treat the white woman love interest. And I guess and this might even be rude to me make the comparison for this fictional alien race, but I guess one thing I'm glad Ruby Dixon does do is  I liked the fact that the human women are not put on this pedestal because they're human.

Andrea Martucci: I totally hear what you're saying. It's the first of all, the otherness of the Ice Planet Barbarians. They're presented as these primitive ish men and I think that Ruby Dixon actually does a good job of fleshing them out as not just being big lumbering idiots with like great dicks.

They become true partners to these women and their relationships are real. But I think there is that risk of oh, and then they get these tiny little earth women who come and usurp the position of the native women and yeah. The Sa-khui women, young women are rare and there are fewer of them and that is what creates the environment where these earth women are needed to continue to perpetuate the species. But then what about the women who are still there? Like now, what are they? Hot, garbage and do they not also deserve love? And is everybody just chasing after the new little earth ladies? I think this book is super important in that aspect  and I think in particular,  I could imagine a plot about losing a child between an earth woman and a Sa-khui man would be a very different story because it's not a story about losing a child at that point and grief, it starts getting into maybe these two, species cannot breed and  it starts getting complicated by these biological questions.

So I think this was exactly the place to explore this. And I think also again, like this is a culture that prizes like having children and that seems very much to be a woman's role in this culture. And I think addressing that is really important. So I think it was exactly the right story for this couple, and I'm really glad that Sa-khui couple was in this series.

Dani: Yes.  So Hemalo leaves because it's just like when they broke up earlier, he wants to protect her. she doesn't want resonance.

I'm just going to go away. I really don't know what his long-term plan [00:33:00] was. I feel like he did not think this out, but that's fine.

Andrea Martucci: He's legitimately staggering through the snow and every five feet masturbating.

Dani: Yes. I was like where are you going to go my friend?

Asha she's so mad at him, but she's like, I'm going after him. I'm following him. And she does.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. She's like, how dare you leave again you jerk?

Dani: Exactly. So she storms out and she comes across him. He's been knocked out and there are two starving Metlaks who were digging through his supplies and she's terrified he has died. She just thinks to herself, he is not dead. He can not be dead. So she chases them off, drags him to a hunter cave to care for him.

I love that she went after him. He did his thing again, he repeated his actions, but she didn't, and it's like this first step in them learning how to deal with each other in hard times because she's like, no, you're going to have to go after him every time he runs, you might just have to go after him.

Andrea Martucci: And I think this does actually address. When you get paired up with somebody because the khui tells you,  it doesn't exactly foster healthy communication between people when you're just told here's your biological imperative. Just, go do it like bunny rabbits and multiply.

Dani: Give us a baby in three years. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. And this is a hallmark of second chance romance in, you know, the romance genre is I think a lot of times, it's an examination of  why did this couple not work the first time and how do we believe that this time around it's different? And the steps that they take to start to communicate better, I think are critical. And I dunno if I'm able to find the quote at the moment, but they start to be very frank with each other like, okay, we said we would talk to each other and not close ourselves off. And  we would just say what we're thinking instead of running away and trying to ignore how we feel. It's really sweet to see and I think that's what makes this a believable second chance. It's not just that Asha had to get over her grief and Hemalo had to get over his grief or whatever, however, he was dealing with it. It was legitimately that they were not able to communicate with each other and support each other through that grief.

Dani: And I think one of the reasons you can't find the quote is because it happens multiple times, like it's this theme. So like after this book is in two parts, of the tribe and then the hunter cave. And when they're in that hunter cave and they're by themselves and they really do start digging into their issues, it's done very well. It's very healthy. They say multiple times, like you're pushing me, he'll tell her like, you're, or she'll tell him you're pushing me away again. Or he'll tell her you're being too harsh or something. They have multiple conversations about what went wrong between them and you really get the sense that they're learning how to better, be there and emotionally support each other.

And it's really sweet to see. I'm going to try and find one of the scenes too, because I think the first one is right after he wakes up in the cave. And so we should say, in the cave, Asha finds a baby Metlak and she gets very attached to it. He's starving. We learn eventually that it is the child of the [00:36:00] two starving Metlaks that knocked Hemalo over the head and she does not want to leave him behind.

Andrea Martucci: I thought that this was super interesting because I've heard the discussions about the Metlaks in previous episodes and how  the Sa-khui believe that the Metlaks are basically like non sentient. Like they're just dumb animals. And I love that the way we as the reader start to understand kind of their sentience and their emotional depth is through a mother. Like Asha connects with the Metlak mother, because she sees that the Metlak mother truly cares for her young. And at first she's like,  what an idiot. Like she left this baby alone in this  cave and it was going to starve, but then she realizes that they were leaving the baby there because she couldn't carry the baby while injured and get food.

And so she had to take the risk of leaving the baby so they could get food because they were starving. And like that connection that she makes with the Metlak mother,  not only, speaks to Asha's, characterization. Like she just wants to be needed to a child really.

And she's like, I'll take care of this baby. I'll save it. But then when she realizes the mother loves the baby, she's like, oh, I can't take this baby away from its mother. The mother loves her baby. And oh my God, the Metlaks have emotional depth.

Dani: Asha has a really good quote that I think where she says "Shasak is not a Sa-khui, not human, but a people all the same."

We're told the Metlaks are just dumb beasts. They're very unpredictable. They're very dangerous. The Sa-khui really look down on them because they're dirty, they're filthy, they're afraid of fire, which sort of shows like a lack of intelligence.

So they don't have a lot of respect for them. And it's not until, I think it's been recently when some of the human women have had more interactions with them, that we start to see that there is a bit more of an intelligence to the Metlak  We learned they live in groups. We learned that they don't speak as language, they sign. So they use like hand gestures to speak as opposed to speak vocally. And so we do get this hint that there is more to this creature than what the Sa-khui have told us because the Sa-khui basically have not taken the time  But yeah, so they find this starving baby The mother and the father are starving. The mother is injured and Hemalo isn't here for it at first. He's like, she's taken this filthy creature. Before he realizes it's a Metlak baby he does have this moment where he's like, did I have amnesia? Did I lose a few years? Is this our baby?

That freak out is hilarious. And then, so she hands him the baby, and then he starts beginning to note the similarities between the Metlak baby and Sa-khui baby.

Andrea Martucci: And she cleaned the baby and they're like, oh, it's not so stinky. And oh, it's cute when it is clean.

Dani: Yeah. But she's really attached. And eventually she has to give this baby back.  And she doesn't want to, and when she does, she takes it very hard. It feels like she's lost two babies now. She doesn't say as much, but it feels cause she [00:39:00] cries and she breaks down and Hemalo has to comfort her.

Andrea Martucci: They really want to make sure that this Metlak couple can feed their baby because she's like, okay, I get it. I need to give this baby back to its mother, but I'm going to do what I can to make sure that they don't all three starve to death out here, because that's what I'm going to do for this baby.

Dani: Yeah. I think when she cries and breaks down is a really big healing moment for them because it's when they both come together and it's when they really address the loss of their own baby, because she's crying and she goes, "Everything I love leaves me," and he goes, "I am here." His big hand rests on my lower back and he squeezes my side, "Feel me against you." I shake my head, so sad that I feel it deep in my soul. "You left me too. Always you leave me." And they have this sort of like moment where they have to address what went wrong between them.

Cause he admits to her, I left because you were hurting and I thought me being there was just making you hurt worse. Or what does he say? " And even if you did not come back to me, if you were happy, I could live with that. It is your sadness that tears me apart." It they have this sort of like real discussion over how they treated each other and how they both reacted over the loss of their baby and it was really well done. I don't know what Ruby Dixon's background is or how she explores the more mental health  aspects of her writing. If she maybe has a sensitivity reader or something, but it just felt really well done and such a good example of a healthy conversation following, a moment of grief.

And I was really proud of, proud is a weird word, but I was proud of them. I was like, you go guys.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. And I think at one point he's like, you want to be a mother and she goes, "I am a mother. My kit is dead. I still miss her." I think what it deals with really well, is this idea of this, get over it idea that some people have. Okay, just move on. You can have another baby. It's okay. And I think that particularly people who experience like miscarriage or have a child who dies very young, well-meaning people say all sorts of insensitive things like it's okay, you're still young. You can have another. Things that are, really insensitive and cruel because I am a mother. I did have a baby and it's not like I'm not a mother now. It's just that my baby is dead and not here with us. And that's horrifying. And

It's not something you get over. You will always carry it with you. It's just a matter of how do you go on from that point? And, I think people need support. They need appropriate support. They need people to not just say, okay, move on, get past this, but people to be there with them and say, yes, I will miss that child every day.

It's okay for you to feel sad. It's okay for you to feel the way you feel. You're not being unreasonable to be sad. And yes, maybe we do want to move forward with our lives and have another child, but that doesn't mean that we're erasing that other child.

Dani: And to go back to the quote, but they almost said exactly what you said.

I am still going to [00:42:00] miss Hashala." That was the baby's name. And he goes, "I know, and now Shasak too." "He was mine, even if I only had him for a day. I barely had Hashala for longer." And he says, "You can miss them both," he agrees, "but you cannot allow it to destroy your life." And I think that's the crux of it.

I thought that whole conversation was just done so well.  It didn't skim over her hurt. It didn't minimize it. It didn't try to reduce it or say like they had another baby, happily ever after and they both moved on. It just really addresses it in a really realistic, healthy way and I was like, this was so well done.

Andrea Martucci: I agree. And I think that it's a story about grieving. Like it's a second chance romance, but it's also a story about grief. And I think it is like a mother hood story too. Just being a mother like reading this story, it just pulls it so many heart strings. I just really feel for this character and I think it's beautiful.  Again, we talked about this earlier, but especially beautiful that Ruby Dixon chose the character for us to go through this journey with being one of the quote unquote aliens. I think that just really does so much to make it clear that the Sa-khui,  as much as there's a little bit of this, oh, they're different in these kind of titillating ways also, they're people.  They have emotions and they have the same emotions that humans do.

And maybe, in relation to the Metlaks too, what makes a people? Like just this larger question of who should we care for? Who should we care about in this way? And who is allowed to care for their young in a way that we recognize as loving.

Dani: Yeah.  I love the little Metlak family because they've been reduced to dumb stinky beast for so long and it's kinda neat to see them be developed into something more. So  They're like leaving a trail to lead the family to a place where there's more food available so they can forge and survive.

And then eventually they have to return back to the tribal cave.  Asha doesn't want to go, she's been putting it off for awhile.

Andrea Martucci: Because they've had this forced proximity and it's like, oh God, do I have to go back to this place where I felt all this pain, I'm in direct confrontation with a bunch of people who I maybe haven't been that pleasant to for a long time and I don't feel that connected to. Then also,  we just want to fulfill resonance which she's also afraid of.

Dani: Yeah, I don't get why they went back to the cave It seems to me like when you have more privacy out, but that's again, that's just another decision.

But they started exploring kissing before they head back to

Andrea Martucci: Mouth mating.

Dani: Yes. Mouth mating. I love it. So this book didn't have as much sex as some of the other books do, because  she's admitted in others author's notes that it's a balance when she has these really heavy books, you can't go crazy with the sex cause it just doesn't fit. So we get like a kissing scene, an oral scene, and then I think a resonance fulfillment scene. And so you have a kissing scene I thought was adorable because neither one of them really know how to kiss cause it's not something they do as Sa-khui. And they're like, how was that? She's like, I don't know. It's like, oh, I think the humans do it with their mouths open. Oh, let's try that. It's just. [00:45:00] (Andrea Laughs) It's so cute.

Andrea Martucci: It was really cute. And this is like another romance novel convention  that I've seen played with in various ways where they've had lots of sex but I believe kissing in romances is held up as like the ultimate form of intimacy.

and sometimes it happens after hardcore banging has happened and it's usually these two people have now connected in a different way. And so I liked seeing that from like a meta perspective just with the context of romance using kissing in that way.

These are a people who kissing is not a thing they do. And they're like, I don't know, let's try this. And they like it. And they're like, oh, I get why the humans do this.

Dani: They just kiss and they leave it at that for a bit and they decide not to stress about fulfilling resonance  right away, which I also thought was good cause you all are dealing with a lot, baby.  They head back to the cave and they decide to fulfill resonance.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Can I just say there was one line in this whole book that I really just could not get behind. This actually bothered me in light of the way everything was very sensitively handled throughout this book.

When they fulfill resonance  Asha says, "Give me your seed, let us be whole again." And I was like, no. Like you are not going to be made whole by having a baby or being pregnant. Like wholeness as a couple, or as an individual should not be tied to someone's seed or baby.

Dani: That's a good point. And I think when I had read it originally, I thought it meant the mating being whole again or the reconnection, but  being placed that close to that part of the sentence does make it feel like let's have a baby. Let's be whole again. Oh yeah. I could see that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that's a main criticism of infertility plots that end with a baby is not everybody in real life's infertility story ends with a baby. And that doesn't mean that a couple dealing with infertility, isn't a whole couple, they're not a whole family. All of those things. That's like just a damaging stereotype. And I just feel like for a book that really, and I think that this story, it makes sense for  the story to end with them having another kit and all of that. It's not like I'm saying  this should have been a childless happily ever after but I just think for a book that has handled so much of this  so sensitively, that was just a bit of a misstep.

Dani: Yeah. I could see that. She has to have the baby because of resonance . There've been other times where I wished a couple did not resonate. I don't know if you heard Kira's book where Kira came to the planet. Because of an illness as a child, she thought she was sterile. She couldn't have a baby. And she was worried she couldn't resonate, but I guess the khui fixed things up, which sounds really weird, but the khui fixed it and she eventually does resonate. And that was one where I always wished  things were left as they were. Like, maybe the khui couldn't fix it.

Maybe she didn't resonate and she does remain [00:48:00] sterile but that doesn't mean her relationship with her mate is any less valid. I would've liked to see that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And play with the idea of fate and free will.

Dani: We do have to talk about the, I guess development of Bek. Bek is such a long play for her because his book doesn't come to book 19, but she's building up his story.

No, not 19. 13? But she's building up his story now. So Bek and Claire have been characters in this book. They've been cut in between Asha and Hemalo's story. And so the long and short of it is, Claire has been receiving these little mystery gifts.

And at first she thinks it's from her mate and there's this big mystery as to who is leaving her these gifts. And eventually she discovers it's Bek and Bek is leaving them as an apology. He wants to be friends again. They had a pleasure mating that did not end well. It wasn't healthy, I think is the best way to say it.

She's at first, it's concerned that he's trying to like court her and he makes it clear. No, that's not what this is about. He just wants them to be okay. That expression. He wants them to be cool. And I get it. It's a small planet. Could you imagine having an animosity with one person in a tribe of 30? It'd be really hard.

Andrea Martucci: God, I could not. I would have been ostracized long ago.

Dani: And so he leaves her all these gifts. This is not seen in any of the books, it's takes place in a novella. So if you're a person who just reads the standalone books, you might've missed this whole story. But basically Claire and Bek were pleasure mates. Bek was not the nicest to her. He wasn't abusive, but he was like short.

When she cried, he would get really angry. And then she resonated to her mate and she left. And so he's been lonely since then. Like we know on this planet, they all just really want to mate. They all want a chance to resonate and have a family. And so this begins the rehabilitation of Bek.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It was an interesting little side story and I don't know that other than what you have told me, what happened before this and what happens afterwards. I was just kinda like, ah.

Dani: But I did want to touch on the Bek and Claire story because it's like a solid quarter of the book maybe? Maybe not a quarter, like 20%. Cause I remember when I was taking notes, we'd be going along on the Asha and Hemalo storyline and then this random mystery gift giver.

Andrea Martucci: Claire's like why am I getting gifts? This is wild. What's happening. This is unfair. This is not how the game is supposed to go.

Like  she's a stickler for rules.

Dani: Yes. But I did just want to talk about that. So that's what was going on there. So I guess this is the beginning, like I said, the redemption of Bek, he gets his, a chance to apologize.

They're cool again, because yeah. Can you imagine how awkward that would be?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. But where are the old people? Because my understanding was there were some older people, but where are they?

Dani: There are other elders. Like there's Sa-khui elders. So I think one of the other characters, Aehako, both of his parents are around. So they're  elders.

There's another character who is a single hunter man. He's the one, when I talked about the post-menopausal woman who gets a mate, he's her sort of mate. And then there are other, like old men who get mentioned, but

Andrea Martucci: They're not important [00:51:00] because they're old.

Dani: Yeah. They don't get a lot of the limelight. For the most part, they're not huge players, but yeah, the parents will sometimes pop up if they have older parents they'll pop up and they're hilarious because they're like, oh, are you all going to go mate? Gonna have sexy times? So they're like very up front about it. They know what's going on.

Andrea Martucci: I love it.

Oh my God. Okay. Yeah. because there's a such a huge rotating cast of characters in these stories where people fade in and out.

And definitely, there's mentioned, made of characters who don't really show up on the page, which is fine. And it's they're there, but they're not important to this story. So you're not really going to see them.

Dani: Sometimes when you read all of them together, it does have a very small town feel because they do pop up and they'll say a name and you'll be like, oh, it's so and so yeah. And oh, there he is. Hope he's doing okay.

And then with the spinoff,  a lot of them pop up in that one. So there's that connection. It's a huge universe she's got going on. And then a Twitter follower told me that, I guess all of her series are in a way connected. So she has another series that's called the Corsair series.

And there was like an Easter egg, a dropped line in one of these other books that mentions a character from those books. So that's a hint that they're all connected. So I'm like, oh my gosh, like I cannot imagine. I'm sure Ruby Dixon has to have some wall at home somewhere that's just sticky notes and strings that connect everything because it's massive.

Andrea Martucci: Aliens! Except there's actually aliens.

Dani: Exactly. So it's just bonkers. So that's, I guess The Barbarians Hope. Was there anything we didn't discuss that you would like to make sure we talk about?

Andrea Martucci: I don't think there's anything we didn't discuss.

Dani: Yeah, this one  has a few sexy times, but I feel like getting bogged down in the sexy time takes away from the big emotional meat of this book and that's what it's about. It's about dealing with the emotions.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I got to say, I mean the sexy times, like they were great. They were perfectly fine. Come on. I was led to believe that the sexy times were going to be a lot more bonkers and I think it's perfectly fine that they were not more bonkers, but I was like, I've read dirtier.

Dani: And I think, again, it goes back to she knows when to reign it in. And so for this book, she's not here maybe not in the one that's dealing with the, grief. And there are other ones where yeah, they have fun. It gets really.

Andrea Martucci: They get buck wild.

Dani: They have a lot of fun. Let's say that.

Yes. So I think that's cool. She knows her art. She knows her craft. I will say she's very creative and I love it. I don't feel like whenever I read one of her sex scenes, like she's just copying pasting names in like a scene over and over again. She thinks about it and she puts the characters and she's like, this is how these two characters would have sex. And it feels different every time you read it. So.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. The sex scenes, the intimacy felt appropriate for the characters for the situation, for the context of the story. So I definitely agree.

Dani: Would you continue reading the series or are you interested I guess it's to say? No, you don't have to give a definitive, like I definitely plan to, but would you be interested in reading more?

Andrea Martucci: I would be interested in reading more, but as somebody who has a romance novel podcast of my own, [00:54:00] I gotta be honest.

There's a lot of other books that I have to prioritize first, but  I'm not like, all right, that was it. I'm done. I would. I don't know if I have time to, but I would.

Dani: Listen. I, nothing anyone has said on this podcast has resonated with me so much as what you just said.

I'm doing two podcasts at one time between this and Black Chick Lit. I can't think of anything I've read, like on my own. It is ruined my GoodReads challenge.

I'm not making it cause it's like I have to read for this podcast. And then I read for that one. And then in between that,  anytime I'm reading anything for myself, I feel guilty. Cause it's you should  be reading that other book that you're supposed to be reading for the podcast. So I don't.

Andrea Martucci: I read this book in one night. Midweek, I was like, okay, let me get started. And I had a whole evening where I wasn't editing and I didn't have another recording coming up this weekend cause I'm like in this weird situation where I actually have a little bit of downtime.

I was like, okay, let me get started on this and I finished and then I was like, wait, can I like read a book that I want to read now?

No, surely I need to be doing something else. Like I should be editing. I should be social mediaing.  But I did actually start reading something for fun.

Dani: Thank you again. This was a lot of fun. I think you were perfect for this podcast because it was this episode because it was just so heavy and I was like, we're gonna have to sit and dig into this one.

So thank you again. I'm so excited you agreed to be a part of this.

Andrea Martucci: You are so welcome and thank you for inviting me. I got the message, I was like, oh my God! I've made it.

Dani: Ooh, I am so very grateful that I had Andrea here for this discussion. I am not a parent and as we dug further and further into this conversation, I realized how unequipped I was to handle such a heavy topic on my own.

Yes, just so very grateful. I had her here to share some of that insight. This episode wasn't as wacky or zany as some of the other book discussions have been, that's how the series is. Sometimes you get a heavier, less wacky book and then we get, bone dildos and, or face sitting or whatever the situation calls for.

Thank you for listening. I hope you have a great week. Stay safe, stay healthy. And bye.   

Andrea Martucci: Thank you for listening to episode 93 of Shelf Love and thank you to Dani Lacey for inviting me to be on Ice Planet Podcast. You should obviously go check out all of the episodes of Ice Planet podcast  if you're interested in doing a deep dive on all of the books.

Dani is also the co-host of Black. I believe Ice Planet podcast is on hiatus for now. So if you're looking for more recent stuff, definitely check out Black Chick Lit.

A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on ShelfLovePodcast.Com. If you have any thoughts on the show, I'd love for you to reach out to me.

You can send an email to Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. And this episode was edited and transcribed by Jhen. Patreon supporters, help support being able to pay Jhen to edit and transcribe these episodes.

So thank you to [00:57:00] all of my Patreon supporters.

Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison. That's all for this week.

  at the end of every episode, I'm going to be sharing organizations with rad missions that I hope you consider supporting.

Today I would like to share Honor Black Birth. You can find them online honorblackbirth.org. Here's how they describe their work.

" Honor Black Birth is a St. Louis based storytelling incubator. Reclaiming our stories and depathologizing Black pregnancy one counter narrative. Honor Black Birth shifts the narrative about Black pregnancy and birth. We ground our work in a reproductive justice framework.

We respect lived experience as expertise. We value art and storytelling as a means to feed the imagination and a catalyst for social change. Our featured project is You Lucky You Got A Mama, a feature length documentary exploring the intimacies of pregnancy through a lens of gender."

And so that was directly from the website. On the website honorblackbirth.org, you can find links to purchase merchandise. I purchased a beautifully designed t-shirt that says "giving birth is not a gendered experience." There's like a really beautiful line art drawing of two faces on it. It's really gorgeous.

You can also support Honor Black Birth by funding it on Fundrazr. All the links and more information can be found on honorblackbirth.org.