For those who prefer paper books, yes, a paperback version of this book is available.
According to All Romance Ebooks, this book is 95,237 words long, which came out to 259 pages on my Nook.
Rangers at Roadsend is part of Jane Fletcher's Celaeno series. On her site, Fletcher states that the books in this series are intended to be standalone novels, so I took her at her word and started with the one that looked the most appealing to me.
First, some basic info about the world: All humans and all animals not native to the planet (domesticated animals) are female - hundreds of years ago, when people first colonized this planet, something happened that reduced male fertility to zero and made it impossible for male children to be born. Males are only present in species native to the planet. Domesticated animals are bred via cloning. Human babies are created via a process involving Imprinters, people with special gifts that allow them to combine the genetic material of two women. Instead of a mother and a father, every woman has a birth mother and a gene mother.
Now, on to the story: Sergeant Chip Coppelli is curious and a little concerned about Katryn Nagata, a new Ranger assigned to her squadron. At 25 (I think), Katryn is old for a Private, indicating that she may have committed an offense worthy of demotion. Since Katryn was transferred from another squadron, that offense was probably something that made her unpopular with her comrades. Lacking any further information, all Chip can conclude is that Katryn is potentially trouble.
While working closely with Katryn on an investigation of a robbery of a shipment of jewelry, Chip begins to question her initial assessment of the woman, but she can't be sure that her opinion isn't being affected, even just a little, by her attraction to her. After learning that the offense Katryn committed might have been murder, Chip sits her down and asks for the full story, nothing left out.
Katryn swears she didn't kill anyone. Chip believes her, but she also knows that, without solid proof of her innocence, Katryn will likely live the rest of her life with that murder hanging over her head. With that in mind, Chip tries to find out what really happened.
I have a fairly easy time finding m/f and m/m books that fit my tastes, but f/f has been really hit-or-miss. While browsing All Romance Ebook's Lesbian category, I noticed that quite a few of the titles I marked as being potentially interesting and non-skeevy were published by Bold Strokes Books. The next time ARe had a sale, I decided to give Bold Strokes Books a shot. Rangers at Roadsend was one of my purchases.
This is another one of those times when writing things out in paragraph form seems to be a problem for me, so I'm falling back on bulleted lists.
Aspects of this book that worked for me:
- The world. Fletcher doesn't make it clear right from the start that this is an all-female civilization, so, if I hadn't already known that from reading reviews, my only clue for a while might have been the lack of men and male pronouns. I latched onto terms like “gene mother” and enjoyed finding out what they meant and how this world worked. This book takes place over 500 years after the world was colonized. That really hit home for me when another Ranger was talking to Katryn about snow lions and had to ask her if she understood what was meant by “male” versus “female.” The characters are generations past being able to understand anything other than a single-gender society.
- Chip. Chip joined the Rangers to escape her wealthy and influential family, not wanting to be bound by their expectations. The story brings her face-to-face with one or two of her family members, and tensions are still high. Because Chip's family has its fingers in just about every area of society, I also got to find out more about the world through Chip's memories of her life with them.
- Katryn. I initially thought she'd turn out to be a traitor who'd had second thoughts about what she'd done or was thinking of doing. I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding her and really enjoyed it when she began telling her story. She had been through some hard times prior to meeting Chip, and I wanted things to work out for her.
- The murder mystery. I wanted to know who did it. There were tons of suspects – more people who met the victim hated her than liked her.
- Chip and Katryn's relationship. I love books in which the reader knows the characters are interested in each other well before the characters themselves do. Chip was immediately attracted to Katryn but didn't act on that attraction because 1) it's frowned upon for a higher-up to be in a relationship with a subordinate, 2) relationships between Rangers aren't generally encouraged, and 3) Chip didn't think she was attractive enough to catch the attention of someone as beautiful as Katryn. Katryn's attraction to Chip grew more gradually. They had some incredibly cute moments. One of my favorites: Katryn is visiting the place where she was beaten by her comrades for the first time since the incident occurred. Chip, concerned for her, squeezes her shoulder, and Katryn giddily finds herself thinking “Perhaps if I act totally pathetic, she'll give me a hug” (pg. 176 on my Nook). I loved Chip's uncertainty about the depth of Katryn's feelings for her, and I loved the awkward little conversation they had about that.
- The slow pace. It's not like the pacing was a surprise – although the book's description appealed to me, the excerpt was worryingly slow. Katryn doesn't start telling her full story until page 78 on my Nook, so I spent longer than I felt I should have wondering whether the entire book would be about uncovering the “mystery of Katryn.” The book picked up the pace when it switched to Katryn's story, but, even then, it took a while to get to the murder.
- The murder mystery's resolution. I finished the book feeling a little confused about some of the details, but it's possible that things would be clearer to me if I went over the explanation a few more times.
The book's formatting looks a little funny at the beginnings of sections. My guess is that the formatting was done for the paper version and then wasn't prettied up and customized for the e-book version.
Also: I would have liked it if characters' thoughts had been italicized. It's common practice to italicize a character's first-person thoughts when a book is written in the third person, and it was a little jarring that this wasn't done.
Technically, Rangers at Roadsend is 247 pages long on my Nook. Page 247 to 259 is a short story titled “Three Steps Forward.” It gives more information about the beginnings of the Sisterhood, the religious branch of Chip and Katryn's society. I was not a huge fan of Dr. Himoti, with her enormous blind spots and habit of making huge decisions with little regard for anyone else's input, but I still enjoyed seeing how her words helped shape the Sisterhood.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Those who'd like another fantasy book might want to try this or one of Lackey's other Heralds of Valdemar books. I can't, at the moment, think of a good one starring a guardsman, but Valdemar's Heralds have some aspects to them similar to Fletcher's Rangers. The Heralds of Valdemar series also has a few gay and lesbian characters in it - if you'd like to try a book in which the main character is gay, start with Magic's Pawn.
- First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - This is aimed at a younger audience than Fletcher's book, but those who'd like another fantasy book starring strong female main characters may still want to try it or another one of Pierce's books. First Test and the later books in that quartet may be more appealing than some of the Pierce's other books, however, because the main character cannot do magic - she has to rely entirely on normal human skills. I have written about the audio book version of First Test.
- Pumpkin Scissors (manga) by Ryoutarou Iwanaga; Pumpkin Scissors (anime TV series) - Those who'd like something else starring soldiers might want to try this. Like Chip, the commanding officer comes from a wealthy and influential family. A new and mysterious person joins her division. I have written about the first volume of the manga.
- Dragonflight (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Those who'd like another "sci-fi book that feels like fantasy" might want to try this or one of McCaffrey's other Dragonriders of Pern books. Like Fletcher's books, McCaffrey's also often have a bit of romance in them.
- Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - The first of Shinn's Samaria books. This is a series that, from what I can remember, reads like fantasy, up until maybe book 3, which is I think the point at which I stopped reading. Those who'd like something else that mixes sci-fi, fantasy, and romance may want to give this a shot.
- Herland (book) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman -Those who'd like to read something else featuring an all-female society might want to try this. Herland is out of copyright and can be read for free via Project Gutenberg.
- Ritual of Proof (book) by Dara Joy - I think this is another "science fiction-y" book in which colonizers decided things would all be better if women were in charge. In this case, the result was a world similar to Regency England, only with genders swapped.
- Ooku: The Inner Chambers (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - In this alternate history, a strange disease kills off most of the men in feudal Japan. I haven't read much of this one yet, but it seems fascinating.
- The Twelve Kingdoms book series (first book is Sea of Shadow) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - If you'd like another fantasy story featuring a re-imagined society, you might want to try this. In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, no one reproduces sexually - instead, children come from egg-fruit trees. If I remember correctly, not much is made of a person's gender - people in positions of power can be either male or female without anyone batting an eye. I have written about the anime and several of the books.