High Times in the Low Parliament, by Kelly Robson, is a strange and horny novella with a memorable title and an even more memorable cover. Unfortunately, the interior of this story is less memorable than the exterior, unless you are really craving a lukewarm erotica about a scribe who can’t keep it in her pants even in the face of death. The novella lacks any real substance beyond an attractive parliamentary setting for our protagonist to hit on faeries. Oh, also there are no men in the book, which was a genuinely interesting choice.
Our Atlas upon which this story rests is Lana Baker. She is a scribe of some notoriety, with a sharp pen and sharper wit. She is also super, super down bad. This woman hits on literally anything that moves. This isn’t actually a problem; as far as character identities go, Lana is actually pretty charming and funny. The issue is that the story feels like a box that Robson made to hold all her clever ideas for pickup lines. For super confusing reasons that I still don’t understand, Lana manages to anger a temperamental faerie (who are the top dogs in this extremely confusing legal system) and gets sent to Low Parliament.
Low Parliament is generally considered a terrible place to be, especially currently (that was a sea pun) as the meeting house is in danger of being yeeted into the ocean. As Lana transcribes the endless circular arguments of Parliament, the debates grow tenser and more desperate. Due to long-standing tradition, a hung vote will cause Parliament to flood and a return to endless war. Lana must rely on unlikely comrades to save humanity (and maybe even woo one or two lucky ladies), come hell or high water.
My biggest issue with High Times is that it doesn’t even pretend to care about its context or worldbuilding. Almost nothing happens plot-wise in this story, and the things that do happen either don’t make sense or aren’t explained at all. There is no objective for Lana. She is just there to watch other characters have agency and hit on hot ladies. When things do happen, she is sitting on the sidelines commenting “interesting, but did you see that ass.” Generally, this leads to a fairly unfulfilling story that was cute and had a great atmosphere but felt vapid and shallow. When it comes to stories, especially novellas, I am looking for tighter themes and meaningful storytelling. Also FYI, if you are looking for spice, you will find yourself looking at a massive batch of vanilla. The aforementioned horniness mostly boils down to Lana trying to bang everything in sight with a pulse, and not much execution.
That being said, where High Times does shine is its strong character chemistry. Lana is given a faerie minder named Bugbite, a wasp fae whose job is to taskmaster the scribes. Fae and humans have an established bad relationship, and Bugbite immediately hates Lana. Lana, however, does not give a hoot. Lana has this charming and unyielding gregarious nature that wears away at Bugbite until they form a friendship that feels very unlikely but completely earned. This was the one dimension of the story I really connected with and kept me coming back to read more.
In sum, High Times in the Low Parliament doesn’t have a ton to offer. Yes, it has charming characters and good chemistry, but the characters feel like powerless spectators with no ability to affect the story. In addition, the story feels unrefined, confusing, and without clear objectives. All of this combines into a novella with some extreme highs and lows in experience.
Rating: High Times in the Low Parliament – 5.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.