Aidee Ladnier’s Spindrift Gifts is a sequel to The Klockwerk Kraken, the story of how space pilot Jimenez and bartender Teo met and fell in love. We follow these two completely adorable characters to Teo’s home planet of Celos in Spindrift Gifts, where Jimenez, who was once a slave, undergoes a kind of medical deprogramming.
We meet Teo’s family, all of whom are loving, strong-minded, constantly up in your business, and have tentacles. One of Aidee Ladnier’s strengths is how she integrates alien qualities into a character without making him or her seem all that alien. This is a good thing. There are wonderful descriptions of how the Celosians are different from humans, and the tentacles are just one aspect. The communal nature of their living style sets Jimenez on edge at times, but part of his journey is to accept the love of his new partner and family, and that is delicately demonstrated by positive details such as how most rooms in their home do not have doors (so there’s always a smiling face in view), and how the family love-bombs Jimenez by including him in their yearly “Spindrift gifts” celebration. The family seems almost unrealistically supportive at times — not only in their acceptance of Teo’s same-sex partner, but in all their other interactions too. It’s a powerful contrast to Jimenez’s fear-based life before Teo, and that contrast comes to life in ways large and small throughout the story.
The big plot is Jimenez’s struggle to overcome his conditioning – the mental or psychological structure of slavery. That involves a lot of doctor-y and science-y treatment, and a lot of traumatic, visceral time in Jimenez’s head as he relives his past. Ladnier is a little too good at describing the experience of reliving trauma with that new awareness of having been broken down, and all the shame that can come along with it. Those passages were hard to read, but that’s a compliment; nothing about a subject like that should be easy.
But whether Jimenez succeeds has just as much to do with him accepting Teo’s love. This is a real winner of a romance plot for that reason. The two very different members of an already-committed couple are each still fighting as individuals for love to prevail. That balances the hard subject matter with hope and sweetness, and it’s much needed here.
Spindrift Gifts is well-crafted, original, deeply felt, and way too short. Bring me Book 3.