Book Review: The Fifth Gender

I’m a sucker for a monster fucker story. Maybe it stems from growing up on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or maybe it has to do with a theory I saw recently about how queer people are more likely to be attracted to the monstrous because we’ve learned to love and accept what people see as unacceptable in ourselves. Or maybe I’m just a pervert. Regardless, I was intrigued by G. L. Carriger’s The Fifth Gender when someone first mentioned it on Twitter last year, so I nabbed a copy and started reading it a few days after the ball dropped on 2021.

I finished it in one day.

The basic gist of the novel is that Tristol, an alien from a race that has five genders and no concept of murder, is living in exile on a human space station. Curious by nature, he’s made a name for himself on the station as someone who loves learning about human culture and experiencing human cuisine. And, as a member of the Galoi race, he’s also known for being interested in experiencing other things humans have to offer.

Tristol (or Tris) is attracted to men, but he has a special place in his heart for grumpy, handsome Detective Drey Hastion. Drey is single and monogamous, and therefore feels like he’s not what infamously free-spirited Tris is looking for. But when a Galoi ship contacts the space station with a mystery on their hands, Drey and Tris have to work together in order to solve what may be the very first murder in Galoi history. And, in the process, they might just find love.

From the first page of this novel, I was hooked. I loved seeing the world through Tristol’s inexperienced eyes, and the way he describes things (*cat*neuter*pet*, *human*female*friend*, etc.) was so damn charming. Carriger does an amazing job of making Tristol “alien” while still making him relatable. His observations about humans and human culture are funny and spot-on, and his somewhat humanoid physiology is sexy and intriguing. (Wait ’till you see what he can do with that tentacle-like hair!)

Drey is sweet in spite of the hardened persona he projects, and watching these two figure each other and their relationship out was fun and cute. I especially enjoyed seeing them navigate their feelings amidst a criminal investigation. Tris has no idea how to behave in that sort of situation, and Drey is so patient and kind to him. The other characters in the novel pale in comparison to these two, but they’re still interesting and pop off the page. Also, the particulars of Galoi culture were fascinating, and Carriger provides a convenient glossary in the back for the Galoi words used throughout the book.

The murder mystery itself was enough to keep me reading (and came to a satisfying and sad ending), but what I especially loved were the sex scenes (go figure). I’ve mentioned this book before as one of the ones that got me interested in writing erotic fictiom. Other than Docile, it was really the first spicy book I’d read in a long time (and the ones before that were few and far between). Carriger does a great job of juggling plot, character development, and steam, which gave me hope that I could do the same.

I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that this is a comedy of errors–Tris isn’t incompetent, merely still learning–but the humor in this book often comes from his misunderstanding the people around him. His wide-eyed fascination is what got me into the book, but what kept me going was everything else about it.

I’m giving The Fifth Gender 5/5 stars. I highly recommend it even if you’re not usually a fan of five-alarm sexy times. It’s a genre-bending novel that combines sci-fi, mystery, erotica, and romance into one adorable little package. It’s advertised as being part of the Tinkered Stars series (the other one labeled that is a young adult novel from 2014), and I’m hoping that Carriger continues to put out novels just as fun and sexy as this one is.

(Note: G. L. Carriger also publishes novels under the name Gail Carriger.)

-Gabriel

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