Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s THE AGENT GAMBIT, an omnibus by Baen Books that combines their first-ever Liaden Universe (TM) novel, AGENT OF CHANGE, with their third novel and direct sequel to the former, CARPE DIEM, is both excellent and a great introduction to Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe. These two novels deal with Val Con yos’Phelium, pilot, Scout, and Agent of Change, and Miri Robertson, a supposedly Terran mercenary who’s much more than she seems to be, and contain rousing action, great dialogue, and some of the best comic characters ever — Edger and Sheather, eight-foot turtle-like creatures who happen to be blood-brothers of Val Con yos’Phelium.
AGENT OF CHANGE shows the problems Val Con yos’Phelium has in full measure. He didn’t become a secret agent by choice; he was “recruited,” more or less forcibly, by the sinister Department of the Interior, because he is the Heir (or Nadelm) to Clan Korval, an extremely powerful Clan on Liad. The Liadens are called one of the “Clans of Men” by Val Con’s allies, some Clutch Turtles, even though Liadens, unlike most humans, tend to have some extra psychic abilities (sometimes extremely small ones, but there); this distinction is important, because without the Liadens being seen as “human-plus-other” rather than merely “other,” it would be much harder for readers to empathize with them.
Yet we do empathize with Val Con’s plight as easily as we do with Miri Robertson; they are both soldiers who’ve fought bravely, have survived their duty, and now must deal with the aftermath of war while having rousing adventure after rousing adventure. The world building is excellent, of course; how not, in a Lee and Miller novel? But what’s best about AGENT OF CHANGE is how a soldier resumes his more-or-less normal life; even with the rousing action, there’s a romance going on between Val Con and Miri that forces Val Con to the self-examination necessary to resume his life and former career as a Scout and pilot despite the extra abilities forced upon him by the Department of the Interior. Val Con realizes he’s more than he’d given himself credit for, while Miri also realizes the same thing about herself, and the two of themselves end up pledging themselves to one another not merely for the sake of the mission, but for life.
CARPE DIEM is a direct sequel to AGENT OF CHANGE, and is about how Val Con and Miri survive on a somewhat primitive planet that seems remarkably similar to 20th Century Earth. They’ve so far outwitted their enemies, while their allies in the Scout community (Val Con’s contemporaries), the mercenaries (where Miri Robertson’s name is both respected and feared), and of course the Clutch Turtles are seeking them with increasing desperation. Yet from the start it’s obvious that while Val Con and Miri will accept help from their allies — if their allies can find Val Con and Miri, of course — they’d rather do it on their own.
How Val Con and Miri survive, thrive, find allies and deepen their marital relationship is for you to read, but I can assure you, if you love space opera, or science fiction romance, or straight-up old-fashioned speculative fiction with many twists and turns in the plotline, you will become as enthusiastic about Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe as I am. CARPE DIEM features excellent world building, a well-drawn “clash of cultures” narrative, a highly hissable villain in the Commander of the Department of the Interior, an outstanding romance, and the “hero’s journey” (with both Miri and Val Con) couldn’t be any better.
So now that you’ve read this full review, go out and grab THE AGENT GAMBIT omnibus, right now — then go get everything else Lee and Miller have ever written, singly and together, too.
** Note that chronologically, Lee and Miller’s second novel was CONFLICT OF HONORS, which was included in their THE DRAGON VARIATION omnibus (also put out by Baen Books) last year; I have already reviewed that, highly favorably, here at Shiny Book Review.
—- Reviewed by Barb