An Alien Berserker for Christmas

An Alien Berserker for Christmas

Mina Carter deftly reworks the formula of girl-meets-alien with a Christmas theme, as indicated by her book’s cover, dominated (mmm-huh) by a bearded man with a shaved chest, wearing elasticised red pants in Space; a hint of Santa hat is visible.

We can’t see his eyes, but behind one preposterous bicep we can glimpse that the hero is also carrying a Santa sack, an emphasis that avoids confusion with any of the 16 other books in the series, including Pregnant by the Alien Healer, Adored by the Alien Assassin or Claimed by the Alien Shifter. For the uninitiated, a Shifter is not a spanner, but a man who morphs.

Most romance shapeshifters turn into so-called alpha animals, such as wolves, bears or monsters of mythology. A predator, frightening at first, will become the protective love of the heroine’s life. Although, even a shifter who becomes a budgie would be preferable to one common human ‘alpha’ in romance novels: the murderous, abusive criminal from the mafia – Russian or otherwise.

Alien heroes have names like an Ikea bedside table, such as Vikad or G-o’r’p. I commend Carter for being abstemious with the apostrophes in naming her protagonist K’laus (as in Santa). The plot: Heroine Holly has been injured at her dangerous, sciencey job breeding vicious tigers with ‘human-level intelligence’.

Her dicky boss/ex-boyfriend sends Holly to a small, Christmas-themed resort town with homespun values in a biodome (a snow-dome!). In all the galaxy this is the gin joint K’laus walks into – unbeknownst to her, he already saved her life in the past. Despite being enormous, he is mistaken for an absent human called Jamie Kringle, who was employed to help Holly tend experimental reindeer.

Romance is not to be sneered at: it’s a billion-dollar business that cheers people up. It has bestsellers, plagiarism scandals, some superior writing, some terrible writing and werewolves – readers are in on the jokes. Tessa Bailey boasts multiple bestsellers simultaneously; British-Nigerian writer Bobu Balalola wrote her Masters thesis about Beyoncé; Australia’s own Eve Dangerfield has a sexy-funny Brunswick tattoo parlour series.

Like them, Mina Carter is no cis-male pretender with a female pseudonym; this book avoids tell-tale clangers, such as, ‘She removed her slacks and panties’, or, ‘I slammed against her cervix; her eyes rolled back in ecstasy.’ (Sir, they did not.)

Here, she avoids almost all the reasons to abruptly stop reading an erotic book: a hero with the same name as your ex-husband; realising that the story’s about people 30 years younger than you; kinks that make you do jazz hands in a bad way; a sudden sexual choking scene; oddly formal mediocre writing; or three typos on page 2.

 Since at least Regency times, a classic romance relieves the heroine of choice, after which she falls in love anyway. Happily, Alien Berserker for Christmas swerves the problematic enslavement in many alien romances that use settings of colonisation: a planet is conquered; a woman is abducted for sex but then falls forever-in-love with her captor. It can be . . . tricky . . . to make that seem even slightly okay.

The empires of romance can be financial or planetary – the real constant is rescue and protection, from an abusive ex, from a hyper-critical family, from exhaustion and disrespect. In a real world of catfish-hoaxers, gaslighting app dates, romance/financial scams and murdery podcasts, romance readers still want stories of loyalty and safeguarding. Other themes can include a questionably large penis and bank balance, and no need for housework.

In short, K’laus is kind and respectful of Holly: he’s Vikingish but not too berserk; he saves her from a runaway ‘expensive sports car’ and a snowdrift; he spurns Maxine, the glam receptionist who is mean about Holly’s weight (boo); and he humiliates Holly’s ex (hurrah). Our heroes kiss in the barn and fight off a wolf (not a shapeshifter one). There’s a misunderstanding, a confession, a Xmas tree, and Tasmanian Tiger DNA is rediscovered.

Some details of the plot do seem improbable. I should not be what Evelyn Waugh called a ‘fastidious critic’ – did I fail to mention being unbefoolst? But that’s not a barrier for this reviewer; I’ll probably never have sex again in real life, so visualising a lime-green, gigantic alien doing me in a magic tunic is no weirder than imagining sex with somebody from the Eastern Suburbs.

An Alien Berserker for Christmas: 3.5 stars.