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REVIEW: Dali – E.M. Hamill

Dali - E.M. Hamill

Genre: Sci-Fi. Space Opera

LGBTQ+ Category: Genderfluid, Genderqueer. Non-Binary, Intersex

Reviewer: Devon

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About The Book

Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction.

Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife.

The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again.

Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

The Review

After a deadly world war nearly wiped out humanity, the survivors spread out across our solar system, forming Sol Fed, a collection of United Colonies.

During this process, humankind also noticed a marked up-tic in the number of intersex individuals, who are now classified as third-gender. This includes some humans who are born without gonads but with specialized hormonal glands that let them control their secondary sexual characteristics. Protagonist Dalí Tamareia is one such “changeling,” who also happens to be a trained ambassador/peacemaker. 

To further complicate matters, mankind has also learned that we are far from alone in the universe; in fact, Sol Fed is now faced with the pivotal decision of whether to join the Remoliad Alliance (a sort of galactic United Nations). Favoring galactic-isolation, the members of the fanatical New Puritan Movement (NPM) oppose joining the Remoliad—and incidentally also fiercely discriminate against third gender individuals, especially changelings, even going so far as to propose editing out these “unwanted” traits from the human gene pool. Yikes!

At this key moment, Dalí is poised to begin their career as an ambassador, much like their third-gender mother before them. However, Dalí is still reeling from the recent loss of their spouses and unborn child who were killed in a terrorist attack. When the reckless lifestyle Dalí’s taken up to try to dull the pain almost kills them, they find an unexpected new purpose: working with Penumbra (a Remoliad intelligence agency) to rescue a group of human changelings that have been kidnapped and are in danger of being sold into slavery on the Shontavian Market (a black market held aboard a constantly relocating and thus difficult-to-track starship).

If I had to describe E. M. Hamill’s Dalí Tamareia series in one word, that word would be awesome. I promise I’ll describe details with more sophisticated vocabulary later on, but seriously, the characters are awesome, the plot is awesome, the intergalactic settings are awesome, the surprises are awesome, and the writing is awesome. That’s not to say the books are perfect, but they’re so much fun with gripping storylines and a wide variety of interesting characters to love and (love to) hate.

This review focuses on Dalí, the first book of the series. I was initially drawn to this book for three primary reasons: 1) I recognized the author from the Innovation flash fiction contest, so I knew the book was going to be well written and unique, 2) the protagonist is nonbinary and seeking out and supporting nonbinary representation is personally very important to me, and 3) the premise surrounding the NPM sounded eerily relevant to many modern political issues, and I was interested to see how it would all work out.

About that last point, I think it’s important to warn in this review that this book depicts quite a few instances of discrimination against third-gender and especially changeling individuals. After all, a large portion of the plot revolves around changelings being kidnapped and sold into slavery.

There are also several incidents where Dalí faces slurs and physical attacks based on their third-gender changeling status. Of course, the book handles these incidents well, and it’s always clear that the people who want to oppress third-gender individuals are the bad guys; however, I think it’s important for potential readers to be aware that the incidents are there, so be warned that this book won’t necessarily be a comfortable read.

These plot points struck me as a good reminder that humanity isn’t marching on a straight path from less-tolerant to more-tolerant and that these kinds of discriminatory, regressive movements can always rear their ugly heads. Fortunately, the future looks a little bit brighter by the end of Dalí, so the story’s also a nice reminder that good people can make a difference toward making the world (or in this case the universe) a better place.

As I mentioned, another huge draw for me was Dalí’s gender identity. Nonbinary characters are still relatively scarce, although there’s definitely been an uptick especially in science fiction. However, there seems to be a tradition in mainstream speculative fiction of only introducing nonbinary characters if they’re aliens/robots/monsters/gods/etc, which can be tons of fun but also frustrating for those looking for representation as, well, regular old humans.

As a character, Dalí leans a tiny bit into this tradition due to their ability to physically alter their secondary sexual characteristics at will, which at times feels like a bit of a superpower (for instance, Dalí hormonally pumps up their muscles before most fights). However, Dalí is also unmistakably human (in a universe filled with all manner of alien species) as well as a very well-rounded character. They’re dealing with the loss of their spouses and unborn child, battling addiction, nearly losing themself in an undercover role, navigating complex political and social situations, and managing feelings of regret, frustration, desire, and so much more.

The series is pretty action/event focused, so there isn’t a ton of page space for gender introspection, but I think the author’s done a good job of incorporating a variety of gender identities both in the human and alien characters. I particularly liked how all of the changeling characters we meet approach their relationship with their gender and presentation differently. Clearly a lot of research went into constructing this series, and I think it pays off.

In terms of pacing, this book is extremely hard to put down. The first few chapters have the hefty job of introducing the setting/conflict/characters and thus feel a tad slower (even though there’s still plenty of excitement going on). However, once Dalí begins their undercover assignment, I could not stop thinking about this book even when I was forced to set it aside for such pesky necessities as “sleeping” and “eating” and “bathing.”

There’s plenty of action as well as a fair amount of sex, all of which is very well-written, but not much romance—at least, not much romance that has any hope of developing into a happy, healthy long-term relationship (although I really hope the hints of a potential romance blossoming between Dalí and Commander Sumner pan out eventually).

Overall, it’s just such a fun book. Even though it deals with some heavy subject matter, I had fun the entire time I was reading. Oh, and there are also plenty of Princess Bride references that add to the fun. I wholeheartedly recommend Dalí as well as the next book in the series, Peacemaker, and I am currently anxiously awaiting more from author E. M. Hamill.

The Reviewer

Devon Widmer is a grumpy scientist by day, a scribbling daydreamer by night, and a sleep-deprived parent full-time. She recently graduated with a PhD in Chemistry, a degree which she plans to put to good use reading and writing a multitude of science fiction (and fantasy) stories. Devon’s talents include drinking copious amounts of coffee, forgetting where she set her glasses, and laughing at her own jokes. Also, although she often describes herself as grumpy, she promises she’s actually quite nice!  

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