Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NECESSITY’S CHILD is a novel about Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval, a child of about eight who’s had his life completely rearranged due to circumstances beyond his control. His mother, along with her entire clan (Korval), has relocated to the planet Surebleak, a cold and dismal frontier world. Because Syl Vor was recently in danger along with every member of his clan (explicated in PLAN B and I DARE, currently collected in the omnibus KORVAL’S GAME), he’s suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress and is not particularly childlike due to having to assume adult responsibilities at way too young an age.
As NECESSITY’S CHILD is the sixteenth novel in Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series, it serves two purposes: For long-time readers, it fills in the gaps regarding what happened to the children of Korval once Plan B was called because of the nasty things the Department of the Interior was trying to do to Korval in order to wipe out the whole Clan. (Roughly, Plan B meant that adults of Korval scattered, while the children were taken to a place of safety and protected.) And for new readers, it’s a wonderful story about the young Syl Vor, who feels he has much to live up to, being a child of Korval, but has all the problems you might expect a young person to have who’s been uprooted from the only planet he’s ever known — Liad — and told that he must go elsewhere along with the others previously discussed.
Syl Vor quickly meets up with Kezzi and her little dog, Udari, while at a new school. Kezzi is about his age, is quick-witted and ever-so-slightly slightly psychic (with the potential to be more in the future), and has very quick reflexes. But because Kezzi comes from the secretive kompani (think “Gypsies” and you’re not far wrong), she doesn’t give either her correct name or her dog’s correct name right away. Syl Vor is drawn to her and because of a series of youthful adventures (some might call them “mishaps”), he and Kezzi end up having to account for themselves both to his mother, the formidable Nova yos’Galan Clan Korval, and to the luthia — the woman Kezzi accounts for as her grandmother, who also is the grandmother to all the kompani.
While these two are having their adventures, we meet a confused young man named Rys. He is obviously Liaden, doesn’t know what he’s doing on Surebleak, and is missing a leg. This is significant because Liadens either get medical treatment right away for their injuries (even small scars aren’t usual, or permitted), or they are often shunned by their Clan of origin.
As time goes on, we find out that Rys is a former agent of the Department of the Interior. Like Val Con yos’Phelium, Delm of Korval (and hero of many of the Liaden Universe books), he has managed to break training and become himself again. But the price has been steep, as his mind is broken and his soul does not seem to be able to be mended as he cannot fully remember exactly what has happened to bring him to this place.
Complicating the mix is a full agent of the Department of the Interior, who wants Rys to cause trouble for Korval, as Korval has managed thus far to elude the Department at every turn. Rys isn’t well enough to fight the Department on his own, or at least he thinks he isn’t . . . but perhaps he has an ally in an unexpected place?
As usual with every book Lee and Miller write, NECESSITY’S CHILD is well thought out, interesting, and I cared about the characters from beginning to end. Syl Vor in particular is an appealing youngster precisely because he’s had to assume responsibilities that are far too old for him due to the recent unpleasantness with the Department of the Interior, and how he regains a little of his boyhood is well worth reading all on its own.
But then, there’s Kezzi, and the luthia, and Rys . . . lots of interesting subplots, lots of detail, and an intriguing mix that made me wonder just how strong a man Syl Vor will be once he reaches his maturity, which is exactly what you want in a coming of age tale.
The only possible drawback I see is this: If you haven’t read the previous Liaden Universe books, starting with this one may be difficult. Syl Vor’s story should be eminently comprehensible, yes — but why the Department of the Interior is so nasty may not be, as we only see one individual from the Department who’s actively trying to harm people rather than a whole bunch of them (as in other books).
Further, if you haven’t read the previous books, you may not understand how the formidable Clan Korval ended up on Surebleak at all, so you might not understand just how alienated Syl Vor is at the beginning of NECESSITY’S CHILD — though he’s trying hard not to show it, and obviously hasn’t admitted it to himself as that’s just not done in polite society.
As I’ve read every single last book in the Liaden Universe, I don’t have the same perspective as a new reader . So all I can say is that if you haven’t read any of the other books, I think it’s likely you’ll figure out what’s going on, at least from Syl Vor and Kezzi’s perspective if not necessarily from Rys’ point of view, and that you should still enjoy NECESSITY’S CHILD.
But if you have read all of the previous books, NECESSITY’S CHILD is a delight. All of the characters here are interesting, Syl Vor’s situation is completely understandable, and his cross-cultural friendship with Kezzi is heartwarming without being cloying — which is very tough to pull off.
Bottom line? NECESSITY’S CHILD is a fun, fast read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished turning the pages, and is a welcome addition to the overall Liaden canon.
— reviewed by Barb