The writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have delivered another winner with their latest Liaden Universe (TM) novel, GHOST SHIP. This novel is a direct sequel to FLEDGLING and SALTATION (previously reviewed here at SBR) as it continues the story of pilot Theo Waitley, who is half-Liaden through her father, the man she knows as scholar of cultural genetics Jen Sar Kiladi. But Theo’s father’s real identity is Da’av yos’Phelium, the former Delm of Korval; Da’av is also a Captain of the Liaden Scouts, which help to explore the galaxy and enjoy cultures of all sorts, including Terran, Liaden, and even Yxtrang (the last being a hereditary soldier caste).
But this is also a sequel to the “mainline” Liaden Universe novel sequence that ended with I DARE, which means Theo’s story isn’t all that’s going on here. This may confuse you if you haven’t read all the other Liaden Universe novels, but if you bear with it you should enjoy reading about Theo’s half-brother, Val Con yos’Phelium, Delm Korval, and Val Con’s wife and Delmae (co-Delm) Miri Robertson Tiazan, Surebleak Head Boss Pat Rin yos’Phelium (also called Jonni Conrad), and many others.
But for now, we’ll stick with Theo’s story, since it’s the easiest to explain.
At the end of SALTATION, Theo was in big trouble. Her love interest, Scout Pilot Win Ton yo’Vala, was gravely ill and only meeting up with a strange ship that’s taken an interest in both Theo and Win Ton has any hope of aiding her. Yet this ship, the Bechimo, is skittish; this is for good reason, as Bechimo is both sentient and sapient. The Liadens, as a whole, mostly don’t know what to do with the very few AIs who’ve obtained Bechimo’s status, though luckily for Bechimo, Clan Korval is among the few major Liaden Clans which approves of such as they have one working for them, Jeeves, a “security logic” that’s actually the remains of a major defense computer complex. And, of course, Theo is aligned with Clan Korval, though she’s not exactly a member as of yet, because of her father and half-brother; this helps Bechimo not be blown to bits (murdered, as it were) out of hand by the Liaden Scouts.
As Bechimo is Win Ton’s only hope, no matter how nervous Theo is over Bechimo’s sentience, she does her best to become accustomed to Bechimo, and of course the ship also does his best (as Bechimo views his essence as male) to accommodate to her, because Theo is the Bechimo’s presumptive new captain and is the senior pilot available.
Of course, with Win Ton gravely ill, Theo needs another pilot to help her, and manages to acquire one in retired Juntavus Boss (and pilot) Clarence O’Berin. Clarence was stationed on Liad, and knows Theo’s father very well in Da’av’s primary identity (meaning Clarence and Da’av used to do a great deal of business together, as both were allied most of the time as to what the best interests of Liaden commerce were and should continue to be). The Juntavus have a bad reputation as some of them are thieves and murderers; however, they are quasi-legitimate, and Clarence himself is definitely a good guy who’s trying to go completely legit.
Along the way, we find out that Theo is still very bad with people (something I noted before; this is her one, major flaw and makes her much easier to understand despite her prodigious abilities in piloting, mathematics, self-defense, and more). But that, alone, would not make a book no matter how interesting a character I find her to be, so it’s good that Lee and Miller wisely show Theo having various adventures, including some for the Uncle (whom I mentioned quite often in the preceding review for THE CRYSTAL VARIATION omnibus; yes, it is indeed the same, exact Uncle, as apparently he uses a cloning apparatus quite regularly), they show her grappling to explain what’s happened to “Jen Sar Kiladi” to her mother, Kamele, and certainly, Theo’s trials and tribulations with Bechimo are more than worth the price of admission.
However, the book fails, ever so slightly, to flesh out the ending; while I’m more than willing to wait to find out what comes next for Theo, Da’av, Win Ton, Clarence, and Bechimo, I should’ve had a better idea of why Val Con left Surebleak (the new center of operations for Clan Korval) than GHOST SHIP gave me; that this information is available elsewhere in the Liaden Universe as a novella doesn’t quite cut it even though, by happenstance, I have read the novella in question. There just isn’t enough there for readers who aren’t as up on their Liaden Universe exploits as I am to figure out what’s going on, I fear, and that’s a shame.
But this is, at most, a minor quibble, because otherwise, GHOST SHIP is a worthy addition to the overall Liaden Universe and capably continues Theo’s journey for good measure.
It does, however, require that I split the grades, something I’ve not done previously with regards to Lee and Miller’s novels here at SBR. I rate GHOST SHIP as an A-minus for newer readers, but a solid A for long-time readers. (Either way you slice it, I want a sequel to GHOST SHIP ASAP, so I can get my next Liaden Universe “fix.”)
— reviewed by Barb
Note: For long-time readers of the Liaden Universe saga, you’ll get a chance to see most, if not all, of the regular characters from previous books in addition to the ones I’ve mentioned. I, particularly, appreciated seeing Anthora and Ren Zel, two of my favorite characters from Plan B and I Dare, along with Pat Rin’s lifemate, Juntavus Sector Judge Natesa the Assassin (real name: Inas Bhar). This adds a great deal of zest to an already richly flavorful soup, and is most welcome.