I actually finished this a few days ago, but I haven’t written anything ye, because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say beyond “Yeah, I really liked rereading this one too and this is such a cool series”. While honest, that’s not really very helpful, even for someone who writes such subjective “reviews” as I do.
I’ve let it all percolate a bit, and I think that now, as I type, something hopefully useful will appear on the page.
It’s been a while since I first read this series. My wonderful book pusher, Barbara, set me on them around the time (as best as I recall) as Balance of Trade came out. The Ace editions had been published and I know that BoT is the last one I have in paperback. After that I was buying hardcovers as they were published. BoT came out in 2004, so okay, perhaps it hasn’t been as long as I thought. But it’s been around 10 years and I’ve had CFS/ME all that time, so as usual, I didn’t remember a lot of details.
What that ramble is leading to is that when I look back on this series, which is a series I love and am loving rereading, I still look back with impressions more that solid memories.
One of the impressions I carried with me “Shan and Priscilla are cool and all that, but I’m a Val Con girl and Miri is awesome”.
I stand up now, having reread this book and admit I was wrong. What I should have been remembering was “Yes, I’m partial to Val Con and he and Miri are cool, but Shan and Priscilla are absolutely equally awesome”.
Their interaction was wonderful, their adventure was exciting and their romance quiet and controlled and I liked that by the end, they were ready to try it rather than an established couple.
I think the problem I probably had the first time, is that Priscilla and Shan are both Healers/empaths/dramliz/wizards/whatever you want to call them. That was a brand new concept to me. I had read Local Custom and Scout’s Progress which looked at the concept briefly (and I think in regard to Shan and his “sparklies”, although that may have been more in Mouse and Dragon), but this was the first time I’d hit against it hard.
While the basic idea is easy to follow, some of the writing isn’t. There is talk of Walls and Trees and Dragons. Priscilla calls what she does spells, Shan thinks about pathways and other words I can’t remember as I sit here now. The “standard” SF trope words aren’t used for telepathy and the like, and while I think they would be out of place in this book, it makes it harder for the reader to get a solid feel about it all. Yet, it’s all very important to the characters and their relationships and I felt that as a reader, even as a rereader, there were parts where I was thinking “huh?” and not actually getting a clear sense of what it was the authors wanted me to pick up on.
I’m don’t want to be too picky about this, as this was one of the first books in the series to be written (at least as long ago as 1988) and the vocabulary may not have been fully established, but I do think it’s probably why I originally responded better to Val Con and Miri’s debut, than I did to Shan and Priscilla’s.
However, don’t let that put you off. It’s still a great book with some wonderful characters. The crew of the Dutiful Passage, so diverse and interesting, create a wonderful backdrop to the story and on the whole this is a very good introduction to the whole idea of Balance and melant’i on a small scale before we hit the much larger expression of it as we reach the next books and it is Clan Korval entire that has been wronged.
I found myself left with a couple of questions, the main one of which I hope will be resolved as the books progress. I was trying to figure out how this book fitted, time-wise, with Agent of Change. In that one, Val Con talks of Shan, but there is no mention of Priscilla. When I sat down and worked out the dates it seemed that this book occurred seven Standard years before that one. Priscilla was on Liad, setting up her “clan” and getting to know Shan better by the end of this book. Does this mean Val Con didn’t make it back home between the scouting mission he was mentioned as being on in this book and his recruitment by and missions for the DOI which is where he is at in Agent of Change. If so (and I expect this to be cleared up as I keep reading, I just can’t remember now) then that’s another sin to be laid at the DOI’s door.
Finally two little things – everyone took to Priscilla so fast when she joined Dutiful Passage, such as Rusty being so friendly almost as soon as she arrived. What was up with that? And secondly – while she needed it, what right did Shan and Lina have to unilaterally decide Priscilla needed Healing and set right in on doing it without her permission?
In summary, this is another great book in the series and I’m loving my reread. My current plan is to keep straight on going, reading a Liaden book, something else, a Liaden book, something else etc until I’m all caught up. Right now, I’d then like to go right back to the beginning and start all over again. But I don’t seriously plan to do that, as I have a whole lot of other things I want to reread too. Maybe in a few years. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have just announced that they’ve sold another five Liaden books on top of the two already under contract, so I’m not going to run out any time soon.