Once upon a time, not all that long ago, M.C.A. Hogarth tweeted about a new duology. It was described as an asexual romance (or a bromance or a relationship book or a friendship book, probably a few things I missed out on). I squeed. I bounced. I squealed. I mean, one of my favourite authors writing the kind of relationship I would love to see more of in fiction? That I’ve been actively looking for prominent displays of? Yes, please with cherries and chocolate sauce on top!
So when I saw Mindtouch was available for sale, I pounced on it. I has a copy! It is mine all mine and I may very well ask for a paper copy for my birthday because. Want. I’ve been remiss in reviewing the book or talking about it much in part because my response is not, generally, particularly useful. It goes “ZOMG! SQUEE! EVERYONE, GO READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW! IT IS AWESOME!!!!” and… yes. I’ve needed a bit of distance before I could even write a sensible intro, never mind offer up coherent thoughts.
Mindtouch is the first book in a duology. I shall copy you the product description. (Yes, I’m lazy, but I really suck a summaries. Do you really want a badly written summary? No, I didn’t think you would. <3)
Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance’s finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he’s unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society… but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht’h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?
There you go. That just about touches on some of the awesome. (Let me disappear for a few minutes, which you won’t even notice, to squee incoherently until I can continue.) Readers of Hogarth’s work (or blog or both) may be familiar with Jahir and Vasiht’h as the two have appeared in shorter works before. I’ve read through the ones collected into ebooks in preparation of Mindtouch, but you really don’t need to and, in a way, it may be better to go for internal chronology and start with their college years.
I loved Mindtouch, in case anyone was yet unclear on this point. As you’d expect of a book that’s been described as an asexual romance it doesn’t read like your average romance novel. There is no sexual attraction and, since Eldritch have a strong aversion to touch, there’s very little physicality to their relationship. Practically everything about their relationship is emotional and intellectual and the times physical intimacy does occur are the stronger and more powerful precisely because of their rarity and because physical intimacy is far more common in our lives. (Everyone’s comfort zones are different, but try and pay attention to it in media for a bit.)
A few years ago, I read The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson. It’s a gorgeous book, but I felt deeply uneasy reading it. The Swan Maiden is a romance where physical and sexual attraction is at the heart of the romance. Other forms of intimacy are in the book, but they felt pushed to the margins. Mulling over why I didn’t connect to that book helped me realise why so many romance books don’t work for me: they do something very similar in various ways.
Reading Mindtouch drove that point home even further. Vasiht’h, if I remember, has little to no hormones. He cannot feel physical/sexual attraction. Jahir reads as asexual. So the story set-up already utterly eliminates the possibility of that kind of attraction developing and it makes the relationship (and your belief in it) rely on the intimacies that, in my experience, are usually considered of minor importance when discussing romance plots. And yet…
Talking about this book as a romance is bewildering because of that difference, actually. And yet, without going too deep into spoiler territory, the worldbuilding has its own version of soulmates. In a traditional romance their meeting would be a love-at-first-sight one. Does it get more romance-plotty than that? So, Talkin about this book as a romance is tough because it’s got hallmarks of it and is simultaneously challenging what those hallmarks are all about. It makes for a difficult discussion (for me), but oh does it ever make for wonderful reading.
If you like quieter stories, the ones that centre on character and relationships, Mindtouch is definitely your kind of book. (In fact, if that’s your kind of book, go buy this right now. You know that joke about how people’s faces could be used as dictionary definitions? This is that book for the genre. Er, for me anyway. You do yourself a disservice not getting this book. Imo.)
It’s also a college novel. And a scifi one. Although parts of it feel more like science fantasy to me. If that’s not enough to continue, it’s got the most amazing supporting cast and everything matters. I can’t really explain that without going into (admittedly minor) spoilers, so you’ll have to pardon me if I refrain. It will make sense once you’ve read the book, I promise! But all the supporting cast matter and they’re so diverse and vibrant and I want to shout “This is how you write secondary and tertiary characters” off rooftops because, honestly, this is how you write them and about their lives too. <3 I heart. So much.
Just be warned the ending. The book will stand on its own, I think. It certainly will reasonably well. It’s got a clear arc and ending for that arc, but it is a duology and intended to be a duology, so it does end on a cliffhanger. For all that it’s a self-contained story and you could conceivably never read the second book and have a whole story, it ends on a cliffhanger. If, like me, you’ve grown deeply fond of the characters, that cliffhanger will be evil and no amount of “But it’s a perfectly good ending plotwise” will ever make it not-evil. It leaves me simultaneously utterly content with the story I read and wanting the sequel ASAP. I’ll definitely be looking forward to it when it appears!
I loved Mindtouch. (YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED.) I wish I could get everyone a copy of their own, but alas I can’t. But I want to. One day perhaps I will be able to say all the intelligent things I want to say about this book and do so in a coherent fashion. I have not touched upon a tenth of it. I haven’t mentioned the sibling relationships or the world-building or the subtle way in which Hogarth addresses sexuality or working with children and the terminally ill or of the portrayal of university life or class issues and racial tensions and prejudices and my favourite moments (I’ll give you a hint, though: ice cream and cookie dough) and the tiny little touches that make me loves not just the characters for having these little moments of awesome, but Hogarth’s writing for including them in the first place.
I heart. I melt. I have finally managed a roughly coherent ramble on it.