Sharon Lee

A stand-alone SF romance set in the Liaden universe. Part of the Dragon Variation and Partners in Necessity collections.

Priscilla Delacroix y Mendoza is the Cargo Master aboard Liaden space ship Daxflan. She’s also running from her past and dodging the unwanted attentions of the second mate Dagmar Collier.

Shan yos’Galan is the captain of Dutiful Passage and the thodelm of Clan Korval. He’s the half-blooded son of Er Thom and Anne whom we meet in Local Custom.

Priscilla finds out that someone aboard the Daxflan is smuggling illegal goods. In short order, she’s sent down to a planet to load goods, which isn’t the cargo master’s job, and is knocked unconscious and left behind. Her record has also been falsified to show that she’s a thief who reneged on her contact. This would make her pretty much unemployable. However, she’s very lucky because the Liaden ship Dutiful Passage is in orbit. She manages to convince the captain, Shan, that she has been betrayed and Shan takes her on board as the pet librarian.

Shan sees great potential in Priscilla and he also sees how emotionally wounded she is. He sets out to gently coax her out of her shell and to heal her emotionally.

For the first time since Priscilla left her home world ten years ago, she starts to make friends. She even gets a lover, Lina, and starts to open up to the people around her.

I admit that I was a bit worried when the book started with female Dagmar sexually harassing Priscilla. The characters in the previous books had been heteros so I was worried that non-heteros would get a bad treatment. I didn’t need to be worried however; both Lina and Priscilla are bisexuals and the good guys.

Once again I liked the characters and the setting. Shan had clearly similar sense of humor to Daav (“My dreadful manners!”). Unfortunately, once again, there wasn’t really tension in the story. Once Priscilla got on board the Dutiful Passage, it was clear that she wasn’t in any danger. This is the story of her mental healing and journey of self-discovery as a competent professional. But she needs the help of a man to do it.

Unfortunately, once again, the heroine is in trouble and it’s the job of the hero to charge in and save her. Shan (or rather the clan Korval. Shan is just the easiest target) and the captain of Daxflan, Sav Rid, have a previous quarrel, and it almost felt to me that Priscilla wasn’t the center of the plot. Shan and Sav Rid’s fight was.

This book had more fantasy elements than the previous ones. There are three characters who can use spells: Priscilla, Lina, and Shan. Priscilla has been taught according to her customs and differently than the Liadens which was great! She was taught that only women can use spells and was quite shocked to find out that Shan had also powers.

The characters are charming and likable, well the good guys anyway. The worlds and the customs are interesting and I’d like to see more of them. I was intrigued by a world where the gender roles were reversed: the women were the heads of households, did all the trading, and had as many husbands as they could support financially. In this world, the priestesses are gathering more power and have so declared that their traders can only work with female off-world captains. The local trader is very worried about the trend. This was left unresolved, however.

One of the Liaden universe books.

This book is part of the Dragon Variation Omnibus, Pilot’s Choice, and Phase Change Collection.

This is an SF romance and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys both genres.

Aelliana Caylon clan Mizel is a math teacher and this is her growing up story. She lives under the watchful eye of her abusive brother Ran Eld who is the nadelm (second in command) of the clan. Even though the small clan lives in the same house, the others don’t seem to understand just how violent Rad Eld is towards Aelliana. She has learned to be meek and submissive to him. The only time she’s in her own element is at the school where she teaches navigation to Scouts. However, lately she has started to talk back a little to her brother and even challenged him on business matters.

One night she’s lured out of her lonely day by Scout pupils who take her drinking and gambling. She manages to win a working Jump ship by using mathematics during a card game. (I suspect that it’s not that easy or all people involved in mathematics would be wealthy.) Now she has a way to escape her brutal brother and confined life! Aelliana isn’t a pilot but she’s determined to achieve that. She just has to be quick because if Ran Eld finds out about the ship, Ride the Luck, he would demand the ship for himself. Aelliana soon finds out that she’s actually quite famous among the Scouts because she revised the navigational charts some years back. The Scouts have to rely on the charts for their lives and so are happy to help her. She learns to feel enjoyment and joy again when surrounded by such supportive people but always the threat of her brother lurks on the back of her brain.

The book’s second main character, or perhaps the most prominent secondary character, is Daav yos’Phelium the Delm of the clan Korval, one of the most influential people on the planet. Daav has reluctantly agreed to contract-marry Samiv tel’Izak in order to have an heir. They don’t really know each other but Daav tries to treat Samiv like a fellow pilot. However, he finds her cold and greedy. In desperation, he seeks out temporary employment with his old master’s shipyard and meets a certain meek math teacher.

There are other point-of-view characters also but they are introduced rather later in the book. Samiv is one of them and she turns out to be a bit different when you start to know her.

I really enjoyed reading about Daav who has a quirky sense of humor and who isn’t an arrogant asshole as many leading men in fantasy tend to be. He becomes Aelliana’s co-pilot and accepts that as matter of course; he doesn’t insist that he be the main pilot because he’s much more experienced or the delm of the Korval clan or because he’s male. He’s gracious to those around him and he even tries to befriend Samiv.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters; Jon dea’Court as the gruff and grumpy but fair shipyard owner, and the merry band of Scouts. I wondered if Aelliana’s mother, the delm, really didn’t know what was going on in her own family or was she so busy with something else to see it.

Unfortunately, I pretty much knew that as soon as Daav entered Aelliana’s life, her troubles were over, so there wasn’t much tension for me. I just waited to see when Daav would click his fingers and give Ran Eld his comeuppance. Actually, things didn’t turn out quite that way but (once again) I found out that I’m just not satisfied with “just” a romance as the main plot.

There’s also an interesting subplot which continues from the previous book. In Local Custom, Anne found out that the Terran and Liaden languages have a common root and in this book some of the Liaden are quite outraged by such a suggestion. Anne and Rand Eld have cameos here, which was nice.

Oh, I forgot to mention how much I adore that the Liaden language has different tones: Adult-to-Adult, Comrade-to-Comrade, Adult-to-Delm of a different Clan, Superior-to-Inferior. Wonderful! They tell so much about the mood and intentions of the characters involved. They also tell about the character’s self-image and how he or she is used to being addressed and interact with others.

By the way, the cover that I saw on Amazon is definitely white washed: pretty much everyone in the book are Liaden and so golden skinned. The couple on the cover is clearly white (not to mention that the man doesn’t look like Daav at all. At all!!). The cover on the ebook that I have (the Dragon Variation) has also a white couple in it. In the previous book, Local Custom, the main couple was also non-white: the man a golden-skinned Liad and the woman a brown-skinned Terran. So, unless the couple in the last omnibus book is white, the Dragon Variation has also a white washed cover.

This book is part of the following collections: Dragon Variation omnibus, Korval’s Legacy Collection, and Pilot’s Choice.

First off, the central conflict is a romance. There’s a mystery as well but that’s clearly a subplot and doesn’t begin until halfway through the book. Also, the heroes aren’t detectives and are definitely not trying to solve the mystery.

The hero is an alien a Liaden who looks like a human except that he is shorter and has golden skin and violet eyes. However, the customs of the aliens, called Liadens, are somewhat different from humans. Most of their relationships revolve around Melant’i which is the status of the person at any given time. Every Liaden is also part of a clan and is expected to be extremely loyal to one’s clan. The heroine is a human Terran woman.

Er Thom yos’Galan is a Master Trader in the prestigious but small clan Korval. His mother Petrella is determined that Er Thom should start producing children to the small clan and has arranged a contract-marriage for him. Even though the contract-marriage lasts only as long as the child is born (and the child is apparently put into a foster family) and then the partners can go their separate ways, Er Thom is strongly against it. He can only think about one woman: the human linguist Anne Davis who was his lover three years ago. So, he decides to return to her so that he can finally put her out of his mind.

Scholar Anne Davis works in a university as a linguistics professor. Her plate is pretty full: she has her classes and her research, and on top of that she’s a single mother to her half-Liaden son Shan. Even though she and Er Thom had parted ways three years ago, she still misses him and thinks about him often. So, when Er Thom appears on her doorstep, she’s at first delighted. However, Er Thom is shocked and dismayed to meet his son whom he didn’t know even existed. He insist that the head of the clan Korval must see Shan and take him into the clan as is proper. Anne is reluctant to travel to Liaden where she would be the only human on the planet. Oh, and she has brown skin.

Their romance is quite different from what I’m used to and I really liked that. Both are adults with their own commitments and duties. They already know each other and now have their child to consider, too. They genuinely like each other and aren’t a bickering couple at all. (For once!) Some of their problems are cultural misunderstandings instead of simply not talking about their problems. Anne is also very honorable and she doesn’t want to be a burden to Er Thom. She knows that having a Terran wife could damage Er Thom’s career and personal standing. Also, the Liaden value pilots and apparently every person has to be a pilot before he or she can marry. Anne isn’t a pilot even though her mother was.

Er Thom is enjoyably different from most romance heroes: he’s polite, thoughtful, considerate, and very affectionate towards Anne and Shan. He tries his best to see things from Anne’s perspective. He’s also very loyal to the head of the clan who is also his foster brother and best friend. But when it’s called for, he can make quick decisions and stick with them. He’s in fact the first romance hero I’ve read about whom I wouldn’t mind dating in real life.

The clan head Daav is another interesting character. He seems to be quite unorthodox in his ways and many of the more conservative members of his family, such as his mother, aunt, and sister, pressure him to follow traditions. He’s also not married and has a pleasure-love instead.

I liked all of the characters. Yes, even Er Thom’s grouchy old mother who pushed for the contract-marriage and didn’t even want to meet her only grandson. What’s a story without a villain? 😉

The Liaden culture seems to be highly hierarchical. Everyone has his or her place and is expected to behave accordingly. Even the five-years-old boy we meet bows, speaks softly, and walks instead of running. They also have healers and wizards but we don’t get to know much about them. The healers can take away painful memories but only do it with the consent of the person involved. However, Er Thom’s mother wants to send him to the healers so that he can forget about Anne and marry properly.

It still seems to me that the Liaden culture is designed to make many people miserable. The children are reared in foster families and contract-marriages can apparently be imposed on by other people. Both Er Thom and his bride-to-be were against the marriage. On the other hand, being a pleasure-love didn’t carry a stigma at all, which was a pleasant surprise.

The Liadens have two types of marriage: the contract-marriage which lasts only as long as a child is born and lifemating which lasts beyond death. Alas, a lifemating bond reared its ugly head here. However, it’s apparently not the usual kind (imposed on the unfortunate couple by fate, gods, magic, whatever even before they are born) but instead it’s a product of choice by both of them. I still found it quite cheesy, though.

Each chapter starts with a quotation that often illuminates Liaden customs, relations between Liaden and humans (whom the Liaden consider to be very crude), or some point in Liaden history. For example:

Melant’i – A Liaden word denoting the status of a person within a given situation. For instance, one person may fulfill several roles: Parent, spouse, child, mechanic, thodelm. The shifting winds of circumstance, or ‘necessity,’ dictate from which role the person will act this time. They will certainly always act honorably, as defined within a voluminous and painfully detailed code of behavior, referred to simply as ‘The Code.’

To a Liaden, melant’i is more precious than rubies, a cumulative, ever-changing indicator of his place in the universal pecking order. A person of high honor, for instance, is referred to as “a person of melant’i,” whereas a scoundrel—or a Terran—may be dismissed with “he has no melant’i.”

Melant’i may be the single philosophical concept from which all troubles, large and small, between Liad and Terra spring.
—From “A Terran’s Guide to Liad”

The book has several POV character: Anne, Er Thom, Daav, and a few others.

I hope the other books don’t succumb to more traditional romances, though.