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REVIEW: The Hands We’re Given, by O.E. tearmann

Title: The Hands We’re Given

Series: Aces High, Jokers Wild Book One

Author: O.E. Tearmann

Genre: sci fi

LGBTQ+ Category: MM / Gay

Publisher: Amphibian Press

Pages: 429

Reviewer: Ulysses Dietz, Paranormal Romance Guild

eBook – Amazon | Audio – Amazon

About The Book

Aidan Headly never wanted to be the man giving orders. That’s fine with the Democratic State Force base he’s been assigned to command: they don’t like to take orders.

Nicknamed the Wildcards, they used to be the most effective base against the seven Corporations owning the former United States in a war that has lasted over half a century.

Now the Wildcards are known for creative insubordination, chaos, and commanders begging to be reassigned. Aidan is their last chance. If he can pull off his assignment as Commander and yank his ragtag crew of dreamers and fighters together, maybe they can get back to doing what they came to do: fighting for a country worth living in. 

Life’s a bitch. She deals off the bottom of the deck. But you play the hands you’re given

The Review

This is book one of a series called Aces High, Jokers Wild.  I was anxious about this one right from the start. I’m not really a dystopian fan (and yet, I’ve really loved some of those). Also, with the author’s “alert” about the romance arc in the story, I gulped. The plot centers on a gay romance, in which one of the couple is a trans man. How would Tearmann handle this? How would the characters be presented for a reader like me, who has come a long way, but maybe still struggles? 

What is most remarkable about this story is the gentle skill that the author brings to their handling of that key question for me (and, presumably, for others). The author helps us open our minds and hearts, to embrace unfamiliarity. Tearmann makes us care about all the characters, and that makes their job all the easier. 

Aiden Headly is a young officer in the Democratic State Force, which has for the last sixty years fought against the United Corporations of America. We are in an America divided into heavily-guarded, high-tech corporate zones known as the Grid, and Force-controlled military installations known as the Dust. We are in a world where climate change and political deadlock have resulted in a nation that is isolated, only engaged with the rest of the world because of its technological and medical power; a world eerily recognizable to the modern reader. 

Aiden’s task – a job for which he was specifically selected and trained – is to resurrect a failing Dust base known as the Wildcards. What he sees is a hardscrabble group of misfits whose behavior is undisciplined and dysfunctional. What he soon understands is that this is a family, devasted by the loss of their beloved leader. Somehow, Aiden has to become their new commander, to pick up the pieces and put them together again, all the while hiding who he really is from all of them.

One of his chief allies is the handsome redheaded Kevin McIllian, whose oddly debonair behavior masks a deep secret. Kevin is a genius logistics expert and begins to shed light for Aiden on the quirks of the Wildcards and their camouflaged encampment. There is no question who Aiden is going to fall for. And that’s when it gets really tricky. 

The world that Tearmann has created is strange and intense. The goals of the Wildcards are, in this book, specific and short-term. It is hard to fathom how the Force plans to beat the Corporation in the long run and take back America for its people. For now, the author is happy to introduce us into the world they have imagined, and to help us get accustomed to its unnerving realities. The major plot arc here is the relationship between Kevin and Aiden, and ultimately the way in which these two men, each with a potentially damaging secret, will establish the groundwork for their base’s larger actions in the books to come. 

Without a cliffhanger, Tearmann leaves us yearning for whatever comes next. The Wildcards have so very much to do.

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City.

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