Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reviews: Local Custom, Scout's Progress, & Mouse and Dragon

This is a batch review for my re-reads of these Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. These are my favorite romances of the series. These all take place on the very foreign world of Liad where people are divided into two groups - kin and opponents - and the keeping of melant'i is vital work. Think of melant'i as the equivalent of the Japanese concept of "face." It is a very formal and mannered society but underneath it is massively competitive and cutthroat. 

Here is a quote from "Marriage Customs of Liad":
On average, contract marriages last eighteen Standard Months, and are negotiated between clan officials who decide, after painstaking perusal of gene maps, personality charts and intelligence grids, which of several possible nuptial arrangements are most advantageous to both clans.

In contrast, lifemating is a far more serious matter, encompassing the length of the partners' lives, even if one shoudl die. One of the pair must leave his or her clan of origin and join the clan of the lifemate. At that time the adoptive clan pays a "life-price" based on the individual's profession, age and internal value to the former clan.

Tradition has it that lifemates share a "bond of heart and mind." In view of Liaden cultural acceptance of "wizards," some scholars have interpreted this to mean that lifemates are "psychically" connected. Or, alternatively, that the only true lifematings occur between wizards.

There is little to support this theory. True lifematings among Liadens are rare. But so are lifelong marriages among Terrans.
Those of Korval not being ordinary Liadens, these stories are about true lifematings.

Local Custom (2002)
Er Thom yos'Galan, Clan Korval, falls in love with Anne Davis, Terran scholar of Linguistics, despite their vastly different cultures. When he discovers that she has has his child, he struggles to find a way that they can be together. 

This is a definite conflict of cultures that leads to many heart-breaking misunderstandings.
Aelliana Caylon, Clan Mizel, is a younger child of the clan and not well-regarded in it. Her older brother bullies and abuses her. She is also a mathematical scholar who upgraded the piloting charts that all pilots depend on. She is highly regard by all pilots. When she wins a ship in a game of cards, she sees a way to leave her clan and get away from the abuse. 

Daav yos'Phelium, Clan Korval, is a former scout and the leader of his clan which is the most influential on Liad. He is trying to get away from some of the responsibilities on his shoulders by working with his friends at Binjali's. They meet when Aelliana comes to inspect her new ship. They fall in love even though Aelliana suffered through a horrible contract marriage arranged by her brother when she was sixteen and Daav is in the process of contracting a marriage with another.

Mouse and Dragon (2010)

Aelliana Caylon has endured much, and finally, she appears to have won all: a spaceship, comrades, friends -- and the love of a pilot she adores.

Even better that her lover—the man who was destined for her, a man as much a loner as she—is also the Delm of Korval, arguably the most powerful person on all of Liad. He has the power to remove her and protect her from the toxic environment of her home Clan. Best of all, he agrees to sit as her co-pilot and her partner in a courier business.
Even happy endings sometimes show a few flaws. Such as Aelliana's home clan being not as agreeable to letting her go as it had first seemed. And the fact that someone is stealing pilots in the Low Port, which falls within the Delm of Korval's honor. Oh, and the revelation that the man she loves—the man who is destined for her—isn't entirely the man she thought he was. And finally, she discovers that even the lift from Liad she'd so fervently desired, is part of a larger plan, a plan requiring her to be someone she never thought she was, or could be.

My Thoughts: I really can't review these books without gushing. I love every bit of each of them. I love that each chapter begins with a quote from some fictional scholarly work giving insight into the culture of the Liadens. These stories revolve around and are immersed in Liaden culture. The building block of this culture is melant'i.
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."
But even on Liad there is still room for love. 

The books themselves are rather cult classics. Currently Amazon is offering a new paperback copy of Local Custom for $48.50 and Scout's Progress for $34.99. Mouse and Dragon, being much newer, is still in print. For those who want the stories without breaking the bank, Local Custom and Scout's Progress along with Conflict of Honors is available in the Baen bindup The Dragon Variations for only $9.60. People looking for ebook copies can check out the Baen website and buy The Dragon Variations for $6.00.

These books are on my keeper shelves and are lovingly re-read whenever I want to revisit Liad.

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