A superior anthology about the people of "Low Port", the people living on the edge of society, for whatever reason. The stories range from mostly high-tech space stations, via unspecified weirdness, to mediaevaloid fantasy, and they are uniformly good, thoughtful, and touching. Despite being about an underclass living in pretty bleak circumstances, they are pretty uniformly optimistic and life-affirming, too (and not in a gooey, sentimental way, either).
Kate Archer left her home in Archers Beach after a tragedy, and vowed never to return. Her exile is slowly killing her. But when she receives a letter from her grandmother and realises something has gone very wrong, she is forced to return. She takes up the reins of her old life reluctantly, but has she left it too late?
This is a great non-urban fantasy, with a good sense of place on the Maine coast, and a rich carnival setting, cleverly mixing the mundane workplace events with an exotic placing. Kate is a typical Lee protagonist: badly damaged, but competent and resourceful. We gradually learn about Kate's background, and each new revelation brings hidden depths and more complications. There's a conclusion, but the ending feels somewhat rushed, and several plot threads are left dangling (including bad guys who fail to get their comeuppance, an early obligation never repaid, and a late unprecedented offer of help never taken up), hinting at the possibility of a sequel.
These are exciting times in Archers Beach, Maine. An unprecedented Early Season has united townies and carnies in an effort to expand into a twelve-month resort, recapturing the town’s former glory.
Kate Archer, owner and operator of the vintage wooden carousel, is caught up in the excitement—and is quite possibly the cause of it. Because Kate leads a double life, as a carny and as the Guardian of the land. Her recent return to the home she had forsaken has changed the town’s luck for the better and energized the trenvay, the earth and water spirits who are as much citizens of the Beach as their mundane counterparts.
But the town’s new energy isn’t the only change afoot. Joe Nemeier, the local drug lord, whose previous magical consultant was vanquished by Kate, has acquied a new ally—and this one plays with fire.
After the events of Carousel Tides, Kate Archer has now accepted her role as Guardian of the Land around her piece of Maine coast, but certain sea people are not happy with her growing relationship with Borgan, the Guardian of the Sea. And she has to balance that role with her more mundane life as carousel owner (with a new giant fibreglass cockerel), home owner, and townsperson. And that life is getting more complicated, as the town moves to lengthen the carnival season.
The plot advances in certain ways, as Kate learns the extent and possibilities of her magic, and reconnects with her mother, but this feels very much like the middle book of a trilogy, mainly setting things up for what is presumably the big denouement in the next book.
Kate Archer, Guardian and carousel keeper, has been busy making some changes of her own, notably beginning a romantic relationship with Borgan, the Guardian of the Gulf of Maine, Kate’s opposite number, and, some would say, her natural mate. But now a former sea goddess sets up housekeeping in the Gulf of Maine. She’s determined to challenge Borgan’s authority—and doesn’t care if she endangers Kate and everything she holds precious.
In the final book of the trilogy, Kate Archer has to cope with adversaries mundane, and trenvay, and the freed souls from her carousel, and a musician courting her mother. Yet all that pales to insignificance if the Wise who control the worlds, and bound the souls into carousel, were to learn they are free…
We have magical cats, and duplicitous sea demons, and real-estate developers, and neighbouring Guardians. The whole trilogy takes place over one short summer season, and so Kate is still plausibly learning her craft while running the carousel and negotiating town politics. There are lots of previous and new plot elements, but they all get resolved neatly at the end. Except for the giant fibreglass cockerel.
Jerel Telmon seems a typical teenager, her time consumed by her engineering studies, her part time delivery job, and her friends, but she isn't. She is being raised by her uncle, because her parents were killed defeating the Oligarchy in a galaxy-spanning civil war, and now old enemies are trying to kidnap her to start the war all over again. She finds her life turned upside down, as she and her uncle go on the run, barely one step ahead of the bad guys. But she's been well trained by that uncle...
This is a new series from the Lee and Miller stable, and is a good page turner. It has a "young adult" feel, as it is narrated from the point of view of 15-year-old Jerel, who is frightened, bewildered, and finally angry at what's happening to her. There are some great alien characters, and Lee and Miller's trademark emphasis on politeness and ritual. It is also clearly the first in a series: not only does the cover say "Book One", but it doesn't end, so much as stop, on a cliffhanger, like a Saturday morning adventure show. But it's a rather longer wait than until next Saturday to get the next instalment...
It’s not Liaden, but it’s still good.
Gem has been brought up a thief, after having been sold from his Ship as a young boy. Now his Ship wants him back, believing him to be the saviour Captain foretold in the Log, and has sent Corbinye to seek him out and return him. But he is not impressed, and refuses to go with her. Meanwhile, the powerful Vornet want him to steal an item for them; he refuses this commission, too. But both Cobinye and the Vornet are persistent, and soon Gem finds himself being blackmailed into the theft, and in danger of his life. And once he has stolen the artefact, life gets even more complicated.
After a slightly slow start, this has all the breathless pacing and action, complex characters, and rich background, that one expects from a Lee and Miller tale. There is a satisfying conclusion to the story, but obviously plenty of room for more tales set in this universe – I’m looking forward to them.
This is the first in the duology describing the origin of the Liaden universe: how the legendary figures of Cantra yos'Phelium and Jela met, and, of course, the origin of the Tree.
This is everything one would expect of a Liaden universe book: fun characters, breathless action, convoluted plots, and weird trees. I don't usually like prequels, because they are often a let down to the story one has imagined for oneself. But this doesn't suffer the typical prequel problem of being a historyless beginning: this story itself is embedded in its own deep history, with its own fascinating backstory that has been lost by later tales. This is what a prequel should be: illuminating the legendary characters, adding depth and interest, and making their legendary status well deserved. At the end the authors say they waited years before writing this to make sure they were advanced enough in their art to do the story justice: I'm glad they did -- it was well worth the wait.
This second in the duology describing the origin of the Liaden universe carries on the slam-bam action and great characterisation of the first. We see more of Cantra and Jela, and their growing relationship. We see the beginnings of the dramliz. We see more of the machinations of the Tree. And we see the signing of the contract between the Captain and the people of Liad.
This is a really great prequel. Loads of little details, like the first relationship of Korval with the dea'Gauss clan, all goes to build up the feeling that this is a real history, not a simple retcon. The thing that is most amazing to me is the plausibility of the origin of the Yxtrang name. Read the two Crystal books together, but read them after the other Liaden books, to enjoy all the revelations.
Jethri, just 17, is the youngest crew member on the family's trading ship. Liked by the rest of the crew, but inexplicably despised by his mother the Captain, he keeps his head down, and works hard. Nevertheless, his mother decides to apprentice him on another family ship, with a crew he hates. Horrified, he doesn't know what to do. But a chance good deed to a Liaden finds himself apprenticed instead into a strange family of traders. There Liaden politics, and dark family secrets, threaten both himself, and his old family.
This is a fun rites of passage story, with a young adult protagonist, unlike the more mature characters of the other, later, Liaden Universe tales. Jethri is likable: good without being prigish, vulnerable without being a wimp. The Liaden culture is as interesting as ever, and we get to learn more about it through Jethri's younger eyes. There is closure to the tale, room, but not necessity, for a sequel. I hope there is one.
Even as Jethri’s initiation into the mysteries and joys of Liaden Festival bring him to manhood, he’s forced to face Necessity and the facts of life: his adoption has also invigorated a net of unfinished Balance far more complex and potentially deadly than a simple Terran blood feud. He must embrace his Terran birthright as well as his new connections while leaving behind the safety of the great Liaden trade ship Elthoria to defend his honor and that of shipmates past and present. Jethri’s convinced he’s already at wit’s end—when several familiar faces threaten all that he knows of himself, and all that he wishes to do.
I started reading Trade Secret, sequel to Balance of Trade, and realised I could remember essentially nothing of the former. Not surprising, maybe: I read it exactly 10 years ago, since when (according to my database) I have read and reviewed another 480 fiction books (and 185 non-fiction, if anyone is counting). So I grabbed Balance of Trade back off the shelf, and read it again, and enjoyed it again.
Trade Secret takes up the story without pause. Jethri, now a qualified Trader, continues to makes friend and enemies, as do his old family. The dark secret underlying Jethri’s ancestry, and the reason his mother seems to hate him, is revealed. And there is lots of to-ing and fro-ing, as Jethri tries to recover some stolen property, with the help of a Scout.
I didn’t like this as much as the previous one. It’s still a good story, fleshing out the Liaden universe, with Jethri gaining interesting skills (oh, surprise, he’s now a pilot), but it suffers from fragmentation, because of the several points of view. This makes the pace rather slow, as several different plots merge and mesh and converge, and I don’t find the other characters as interesting.
This feels somewhat like the slow middle movement of a trilogy, manoeuvring the plot ready for the finale in book three. Maybe in another 10 years Lee and Miller will write the next Jethri book, and I’ll review it? Check back then, and see!
Er Thom yos'Galen had an affair to remember with Anne Davis several years ago, so memorable that he hasn't been able to forget her and get on with his life. But now it's time for him to engage in a contract marriage to provide a child for Clan Korval, as laid down by law and custom. So he decides to visit her one last time, then go to the Healers to get help to forget her, and do his duty to his clan. But then he discovers something that puts his plan in ruins, and will bring him into conflict with his clan and his society...
We discovered some of Shan yos'Galen's unconventional background in Conflict of Honors. Now we get the full marvelous story of how his parents met, and defied both Liaden and Human custom. This is rather lighter on the slam-bam action, and concentrates more on the interaction, than those earlier written (but later set) tales. We get a fascinating and heart-warming account of love, misunderstanding, and massive culture clash, as Human and Liaden honour and customs collide.
Although I vastly enjoyed this, reading it in a single sitting, I probably wouldn't recommend it as a reader's first introduction to the Liaden universe. Read Partners In Necessity and Plan B first, then come galloping here for the gorgeous added layers.
Daav yos'Phelium, Delm Korval, is about to embark on an unwanted contract marriage. In his last few weeks of freedom, he undertakes some casual work at Binjali Repair Shop. Meanwhile, fate brings Aelliana Caylon a ship. If she can learn to pilot it, she can escape her brother's malicious spite, which threatens her very life eventually. She discovers an ex-scout at the shipyard, Daav, who is willing to tutor her.
So in Scout's Progress we discover how Val Con's parents met. Just as conventionally-structured a romance as, but with rather more action than, Local Custom, this is another of the great roller-coaster rides of melant'i and expert piloting we know and love. It also follows a pattern started in Agent of Change and Conflict of Honors: a woman damaged and abused, struggling to escape her past, meets a man of Korval, who acts as a catalyst for her to discover her full potential, and finally free herself from that past. All set against a fascinating semi-alien cultural backdrop.
How Daav and Aellianna first met is told in Scout's Progress. It ends with Aellianna injured, but escaped from her abusive family. Or has she? The course of true love never did run smooth, and here Aellianna discovers to her dismay that her family, having realised her worth, want her back, or at least want Korval to pay outrageously for her. And the Tree is up to its tricks, too.
This was always going to be a traumatic read, given we know the ending (a problem with prequels). But we get to find out more about Daav and Aellianna first.
So, now all the gaps are filled (well, except for some new hints about the back story of this story), can we now move forward?
WARNING: spoilers for Carpe Diem
Well, it was a long wait for a publisher to finally agree to continue with the Liaden books, but it was worth it. Fortunately, the style of cliff-hanger Miller & Lee leave at the end of their books is, "well, that's all that done -- now for the next thing that's grown out of it...", so there is enough resolution not to leave the reader feeling cheated, just panting for more. (That's just as true of Plan B as of their earlier books.)
At the end of Carpe Diem, Val Con and Miri have just escaped from the Interdicted backwater world of Vandar, sending a cryptic message to Clan Korval to meet them on Miri's home world. Everyone, friend and foe, has to work quite hard to discover that means Lytaxin -- but there's a problem: the dreaded Yxtrang have decided to invade. Poor Yxtrang...
Like Carpe Diem, Plan B has lots of plot threads running through it, as we watch various factions -- Clan Korval, Clutch Turtles, Department of Interior -- try to catch up with Val Con and Miri. But the majority of the plot revolves around that trouble-prone pair, as they help Miri's newly discovered Clan fight off an invasion, and discover surprising new allies.
I do love the way the action is portrayed. Sometimes the details of a fight are given, but sometimes just the events leading up to it and the aftermath are shown, which is very effective. Also, many of the non-central threads are shown as a few 'snapshots' of incidents. This makes for a lean, fast moving, but suitably complex plot -- so refreshing amidst so many ponderous doorstop novels with every plotline fleshed out in such excruciating detail it leaves the reader begging for less. The characters here are as engaging as ever (but I want more turtles!), and we meet many old friends in the sub-plots. Great fun. Next?
And here we have the sequel to Plan B, as Korval and the Department of the Interior launch full out war against one another. The DoI have a cunning three-pronged plan to smash Korval: to recapture and reprogram their reluctant Agent of Change, Val Con; to capture woolly-headed Anthora and strip her of her dramliz powers; to subvert the wastrel Pat Rin yos'Phelium. So. Obviously they don't stand a chance.
Exciting, breathless, non-stop action, cutting between the three major subplots, makes this another of the glorious roller-coaster rides we've come to expect of the Liaden tales. We see how all our favorite characters fare, and get the introduction of a major new character -- Pat Rin -- seen only fleetingly in previous tales. And there are turtles. Yay!
Again, all the main plot threads are neatly tied up at the end, giving a satisfying conclusion, but with just enough left dangling to allow a sequel. Don't start reading the series with this one, however -- read the others first, or you will be totally lost!
Clan Korval is wealthy in enemies; fortunate in friends. They protect themselves with vigor, and have taught even their youngest children the arts of war. They arrive on the planet Surebleak, where the kompani has lived secret and aloof, borne, it seems, by the very winds of change.
Change is often a boon to the kompani, for in change lies opportunity. But the arrival of Clan Korval, upon the planet Surebleak, with its friends, its enemies, and, most of all, its plans may bring catasbrophe, changing the world’s culture, and the kompani, forever.
In this time of change, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past.
The Bedel live underground on Surebleak, a close kompani of kin, surviving mostly by stealing from The Others. But a new kompani, Korval, has arrived, in conflict with the Department of the Interior. Their plans for Surebleak unknowingly threaten the Bedel’s homestead. When Kezzi, a young Bedel, meets Syl Vor, Nova yos’Galan’s son, things will be changed for both.
This is a further tale in the Korval-on-Surebleak saga, as seen through the eyes of children. One of the things I like about this series is how we see well-known people from new perspectives: here we see Nova as mother through her son’s (very Liaden) eyes, and as a Surebleak Boss, rather than as the remote and austere nadelm in earlier books.
I found the tale rather slight and fragmented, taking a long time to get going, being more dance of (exquisite) manners than a major plot advancement. But it is still an interesting and absorbing story of culture clash.
Still no turtles, though.
Star-trading Clan Korval—known to Terrans as the Tree-and-Dragon Family and to the locals simply as “The Dragon”—has been convicted of crimes against the homeworld, Liad, even though one of the “crimes” amounted to saving Liad from very real internal threats. The Council of Clans wanted Korval heads to roll, but the Dragon’s allies conspired to impose a milder punishment for saving their world: banishment rather than execution.
Now relocated to the lawless world of Surebleak, the Dragon is under contract to keep the Port Road open to all traffic. The assignment is going surprisingly well, until Korval discovers that the enemy they’d sought to destroy has survived and is more determined than ever to eradicate Korval.
Clan Korval, exiled to Surebleak, may think that they have beaten the Department of the Interior. However, the Department is still active, and plotting against Korval.
This story is fragmented, something I have complained about before. However, here it seems to work, as things keep moving, and lots of plot threads intertwine. Korval's strengths here help them: the ability to spot talent, and the rescuing of strays from other clans who most would ignore. This breeds fierce loyalty, something the Department can only compel, not earn.
Do not start the series here. Complexity has built up; small events have significance only in the wider context of the series; you are expected to know the backgrounds of most of the characters. But if you are a devotee, and have read all til now, this new instalment will not disappoint (despite the lack of turtles).
At Albacon '91, on a table in the Dealers' Room, I saw three books by a pair of authors I'd not heard of before; the books appeared to be in a series. On browsing, they looked as if they might be fairly interesting, but not wanting to risk shelling out for all three, I determined which was the first (not an easy task -- I had to examine copyright dates), bought it, and started reading. Within about three chapters, I put it down, went back to the Dealers' Room, and bought the other two.
Val Con yos'Phelium is a spy dodging enemies from his last mission; Miri Robertson is an ex-mercenary and ex-bodyguard, dodging enemies of her ex-boss. They dodge right into one another, save each others lives a few times, and continue dodging bullets and enemies, whilst finding old friends in the form of Val Con's slow-talking turtle-brothers.
Grand rip-roaring space opera of the best kind -- lots of action, great aliens, lots of action, deliciously competent heroes, and (did I mention it before?) lots of action. Several coincidences drive the plot, but that's okay; there's enough characterisation, a splash of darkness, and some neat humour, to raise this well above the merely generic.
Priscilla Mendoza has been drifting since being outcast from her world: earning her living on spaceships, slowly gaining promotions, studying in any spare time to be a pilot. Then it looks like her luck has finally run out on the trade ship Daxflan: as Cargo Master, she becomes suspicious of the legality of their cargo, and is unceremoniously dumped on a backwater planet. But in reality, her luck is just beginning, for she signs on the Liaden ship Dutiful Passage, under Captain Shan yos'Galan, who has his own reasons for wanting revenge on the Daxflan.
Set in the same universe as Agent of Change, we discover more about Liaden courtesy, and Balance. No turtles this time, unfortunately, but lots of action, conflicts, cultures, empathy Healing, trading, action, polite insults, and languages.
At the end of Agent of Chaos, we left Van Con yos'Phelium and Miri Robertson stranded on an Interdicted world, Val Con only just freed from the tyranny of his agent's Loop implant. They must now survive on this backwater planet, Vandar, until they are discovered. And lots of people want to discover them: Shan yos'Galan must find his brother Van Con, head of his Clan Korval, otherwise he cannot life-mate to Priscilla; the sinister Liaden Department of the Interior want their Agent back, dead or alive; the crime cartel of the Juntavas just want Miri, dead. Everything and everybody is stirred up against everybody else, and by the end, Clan Korval have to employ their Plan B, just to survive.
The Clutch Turtles reappear, briefly, and are great fun. Lots of action again, and a lot more use of psi-powers. The Val Con/Miri part of the plot does have a partial resolution, but there is obviously meant to be a sequel.
At the very end of I Dare, Theo Waitley turns up with a shattering revelation. But who is she? Here we find out. This is the first in a two-part back story, of her childhood. Read I Dare first, else you won't know who Jen Sar Kiladi is, or who he keeps zoning out to consult with.
This is another great entry in the Liaden saga. Here we see a Terran University planet, with a few Liadens around, but mainly this is Theo's coming of age, as she fledges from a very clumsy duckling, into a young swan, with all the action, manners, and intrigue we've come to know and love. (But no turtles.)
Theo Waitley, pilot in waiting, has left her home planet of Delgado, and been enrolled in a pilot school. But even here, as she learns her craft, trouble follows her, and she is still a nexus of violence. Can she become a pilot before the situation gets out of control?
Here we have several episodes in Theo's life as she grows up in an uncaring and hostile universe. We end up in precisely the same place as at the end of I Dare, but we have travelled a very different route to get there, and now know why "it's kind of complicated". I'm assuming (hoping) some things will be resolved in the next book.
Theo Waitley, nexus of violence, has now found her father, but he's not who she thought he was. Now deeply enmeshed in Liaden culture, with a whole new family to get to know, including an insubstantial step-mother, with that family itself in turmoil as they relocate from Liad to Surebleak, nothing gets any easier or simpler. Compounded with that, Theo has to cope with a lonely space ship stalking her -- a space ship that is distrustful of Korval, but who may be the only hope for her dying lover.
The plot does indeed move smartly on from the common ending of Plan B and Saltation. It's quite complex, with a large cast of characters, and would not be a good place for a newcomer to start the series. There is a lot of history (for example, explaining the reaction of the Tree to its relocation), and consequences of previous actions coming back to haunt characters. The large cast does mean not all get large roles: I want more Turtles! This is clearly the beginning of the next chapter of Clan Korval adventures, with many loose ends for resolution in later volumes. I'm particularly looking forward to when Theo's parents next meet, and Daav realises that he owes Balance: he seems to be in complete denial about that.
First Class courier pilot Theo Waitley was already known as a nexus of violence—and then she inherited the precarious captaincy of a mysterious self-aware ship designed to serve a long dead master. Now she has a trade route to run for Clan Korval while she convinces the near mythic ghost ship Bechimo—and herself—that she wants to commit herself as the human side to their immensely powerful symbiosis.
While her former lover battles a nano-virus that’s eating him alive, she’s challenged to rescue hundreds of stranded pilots and crewmen from an explosive situation in near orbit around a suddenly hostile planet. Lovers, enemies, an ex-roomie, and a jealous spaceship are all in peril as Theo wields power that no one in the universe is sure of—especially her.
Theo Waitley, nexus of violence, and half-sister of Val Con, takes the ancient Builders’ ship Bechimo on a test trade loop, backed up by co-pilot and ex-Juntavas boss Clarence O'Berin. Naturally, things get violent. Theo only wants to trade, but the sinister Department of the Interior want her and her ship, and her ship wants a Captain. Meanwhile, Kamele Waitley, Theo’s mother, is making her way to Surebleak, determined to confront Korval about Jen Sar, not realising that others may want to use her to get to her daughter.
A great continuation of the saga. Theo grows into her role, accumulating an interesting crop of crew members, allies, and enemies. The tale is mostly about her and Bechimo, but we do get some snippets from the point of view of Korval, Uncle, and Kamele, pushing those subplots forward, too. Some interesting description of pilot jacket philosophy, and a great application of it; no turtles, though.
There is little resolution here, just progress, and the setting up of further juicy possibilities. I still can’t wait for the scene when Kamele meets up with Daav.
The Liaden universe novels are rich with hinted-at backstory. Here, in this first collection of short stories, many of those hints are told in detail, enriching the universe and adding hints of their own backstories. Some characters are old friends, some are new; all are fascinating. It probably helps if you have read the novels, as that gives some of the events even more significance, such as Pat Rin and the rug. I’m looking forward to the second volume next year.
This third collection of Liaden tales sticks to background events in the lives of characters in the novels, rather than vignettes about new characters. As such, these add greater depth, rather than further breadth, to the universe, and I found them all enjoyable.
A youthful indiscretion has left Rebecca Beauvelley physically maimed and socially ruined. So when Sir Jennet Hale offers for her hand, her family is delighted, mainly that they will be rid of their embarrassment. She is less so, not wanting to move to his frozen northern lands and leave her herbs and healing lore behind. When the Fey lord Altimere beguiles her, and shows her two futures, a miserable neglected one with Jennet, or a jewel-bedecked one with him, she chooses the latter. Of course, the Fey are not to be trusted, and she discovers too late that she has been ensorcelled and ensnared in his plot to overthrow the Fey Queen. Meanwhile the Wood Wise Meripen Longeye, himself sorely wounded in an encounter with the human Newmen, is also unwittingly caught up in the intrigue. Can the trees help them enough?
This is most definitely the first half only of the story, essentially getting Becca and Meripen to the core of the plotting, ready for them to do something. I hope they will do something. Although it is an interesting well-drawn world, this first half is curiously passive, as the ensorcelled Becca suffers violent degradation at the hands of Altimere's cronies, and Meripen gradually recovers from his wounds and trauma.
Actually, my main concern is for the Fey horse Rosamunde, who plays an important role for about the first half of the book, then seemingly vanishes. Oversight, or poised for subsequent revelation?
Rebecca Beauvelley has escaped from Altimere's plots, but has been captured by the queen of the Fey. Desperate not to be ensorcelled again, she rebels against her captivity, but to no avail, despite being dangerously untrained in her use of Fey magic. Meripen Longeye has been charged with finding out what ails some of the trees in the forest, that seem empty of their spirit. The two get thrown together, but human Becca distrusts all Fey, and Meri hates humans who tortured him and killed his wife. Will they be able to work together to save both Fey and humankind?
This does have more action than its prequel, but feels a little disjointed. Things are set up, but fail to become important. For example, the apparently forgotten Rosamunde returns, but doesn't do all that much. And Meripen doesn't use his long sight. However, the world of the Fey is rich and vibrant, Becca and Meri suffer magnificently under their respective traumas (but are, to no great surprise, reconciled, although I felt that was a bit too easy), and the relationship with the sentient guardian trees is even more significant here than in the Liaden Universe (which is fine: I love trees). A good read, but slightly unsatisfying in the end.