Posts Tagged Clan Korval

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s “Necessity’s Child” is a Fine, Fast Read

Necessity's Child coverSharon 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.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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“The Crystal Variation” Omnibus is Elegant, Suspenseful, and Intriguing

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newest omnibus set in their Liaden Universe is THE CRYSTAL VARIATION, which contains three separate novels:  CRYSTAL SOLDIER, CRYSTAL DRAGON, and BALANCE OF TRADE.  These are elegant, suspenseful, and intriguing novels, each in a slightly different way.

CRYSTAL SOLDIER is the earliest story in the entire Liaden Universe epic; it is about Clan Korval’s founders M. Jela Granthor’s Guard and Clanmother Cantra yos’Phelium.  It starts out with Jela marooned on a planet that’s all but dead; it has one, lone living tree remaining that Jela finds while looking for water, food, or shelter.  Jela is a soldier and pilot, and was created genetically to be exactly what he is; he had no mother and no father, growing up in a créche.  So the fact that his reflexes are keen and his brains are excellent should be no surprise; what is surprising is his compassion, as he ends up saving the sole, living tree (a sapling), taking it with him once he’s rescued.

This is extremely significant even though it may not seem to be at the time, because the tree becomes Jelaza Kazone — otherwise known as “Jela’s Fulfillment” — and is part of the “Tree and Dragon” clan symbol that Korval becomes known for throughout the known galaxy in later books.  This tree is a natural biochemist, has limited telepathic abilities, and is sentient, which is why this unnamed tree is every bit as much a founder of Korval as is Jela or Cantra.

Cantra comes into the picture later on; she’s a pilot of note and a “Gray Trader.”  This means that Cantra goes to worlds that aren’t particularly hospitable in order to make money, and deals with many unscrupulous sorts.  The galaxy is a dangerous place that’s made even more so due to the Sheriekas, an almost unimaginably alien enemy that would rather turn humans and human-settled planets into crystal than coexist peacefully; this fact is one of the reasons Cantra can make a living, as there are some routes that are considered so dangerous that the more usual, legitimate class of free trader won’t even bother with them, thus leaving the field to people like her.

Cantra and Jela meet up on an out of the way planet; Jela’s expecting to meet someone else, but talks with Cantra because she is a fellow pilot and pilots everywhere feel a kinship to each other.  He is also intrigued by Cantra as she’s not exactly what she seems; Cantra is, in fact, also an artificially-created human being, an aelantaza — trained to become a scholar/assassin — and thus, she and Jela have more in common than either of them thought.  And while Jela is a pilot of distinction, at the time he meets Cantra, he doesn’t exactly have a ship; when he signs on to work with her (a more or less accidental thing), they realize that they work well together and that their disparate abilities are complementary.

Over time and adventures, Cantra and Jela form a close, working partnership.  But both want more; they just aren’t exactly sure how to ask for it, considering neither of them wants to get in each other’s way.  So there’s a hint of romance going on, too, which along with the general respect for each other’s intelligence and ability works rather well; seeing Clan Korval founders Cantra and Jela as real, live, flesh and blood people with wants and needs of their own is a revelation.

The next part of CRYSTAL SOLDIER you need to be aware of is the Uncle; he is a dangerous man who helps to liberate “Batchers” — that is, artificially grown and cloned humans who are grown in a Batch who do not have legal rights or standing, yet are actual human beings.  The Uncle, for all his faults — and as he’s a Dark Trader who loves “older” technology that may or may not be harmful and will do just about anything to get his hands on the stuff, these faults are legendary — has his heart in the right place with regards to this issue.

The Uncle, Cantra, and Jela all intersect because of one woman, Dulsey, who is a “Batcher.”  Cantra knows where the Uncle is likely to be, you see — and like the Uncle, Cantra really despises the slavery that Batchers endure as a matter of course, while Jela doesn’t exactly like it, either; this is why they take Dulsey to see the Uncle in hopes that the Uncle will help Dulsey evade those who’d willingly enslave her.  (That Jela was created to be what he is, and is a member of the military and has a limited life span yet is not a slave — more like a servant — is an irony that both Jela and Cantra realize; Cantra was created also, yet she escaped her fate and is as human and legal as most.)  So once again, their compassion is on display, here, even if it’s understated (especially on the part of Cantra).

CRYSTAL DRAGON starts out with the introduction of Rool Tiazan and his Lady; these are highly telepathic people who were created by the Iloheen (aka the Sheriekas) to serve the Iloheen.  Their “service” amounts to wiping out whole star systems and turning many of them to crystal in the process; the thing is, some of these servants have had enough, including Tiazan and his Lady (who hasn’t accepted a name because she doesn’t want to be bound by anything).  There are references, outright ones, to domination and submission here, with the women being the dominants and the men, all named, being the submissives — that Tiazan refuses to submit and insists on equality is notable.

After this lengthy, but necessary, introduction (you see, without these folks, it’s unlikely the Liadens would have anywhere near as many telepaths, Healers, or dramliz — wizards, more or less — as they do in later books), we get back to Jela and Cantra.   Jela’s last military orders are to keep some people, somewhere, alive, and Cantra is in agreement with this purpose but isn’t exactly sure how she can help.   They have more adventures; the Uncle shows up a little bit, too, just to keep his hand in.  And the two of them mate, more than once; despite the fact that Jela’s lifespan is about to end (45 being the upper limit for an M series soldier) and that he was bred to be sterile, the tree aids the pair of them by encouraging them to have a child.  (Note that Cantra and Jela don’t realize this is what’s going on at first.  Cantra was protected against pregnancy and Jela is supposed to be sterile.)  Rool Tiazan’s Lady helps Cantra due to her healing knowledge; without the Lady’s help, Cantra never would’ve had a child, thus wouldn’t have been able to help found Clan Korval.

The book ends with the successful evasion of the Sheriekas, the founding of Liad with the refugees Jela helped to protect, and a great deal of melancholy (that I refuse to spoil).

BALANCE OF TRADE takes up approximately one thousand years later; Liad is now a heavily settled, civilized world, yet they have very little truck with “normal” humans (called Terrans, though these may not be from our Earth or even our galaxy).   One Master Trader, Norn ven’Deelin, decides to change this after a young Terran boy, Jethri Gobelyn, unwittingly aids her in evading identity theft.  (Or the high-tech equivalent.)  Jethri is a smart lad but has never really felt comfortable due to the fact his mother, Iza, doesn’t care about him at all.  So when ven’Deelin decides to offer Jethri a post as an Apprentice Trader on a Liaden ship under her tutelage, Iza is more than willing to see Jethri’s back even though as far as anyone knows, Jethri is the first human being to be offered such a post and will have many challenges ahead.

Over time, Jethri becomes a better Trader, learns the Liaden languages (High and Low), learns the art of bowing (something that goes along with the language study) and of dance . . . then, as he’s starting to feel welcome on his new ship, he gets put down on a planet (“dirtside,” as he’d style it).  Jethri isn’t used to this as he grew up on a ship; even dealing with comparatively heavy gravity all the time (as he has on the Liaden ship; his own had much ligher grav) was difficult enough.  Now, he’s going to have to deal with the weather, with the sight of mountains, with many stairs and much variation in tone, temperament, and manners on a Liaden homeworld (not Liad itself, mind you, but in the Liaden sphere of influence and dominated by Liadens).  How will he go on?

And how does the Uncle — yes, that Uncle — figure into all this?

This is a very nice change-of-pace for Lee and Miller, as BALANCE OF TRADE is an excellent young adult coming of age novel.  There’s no sex, little profanity, a great deal of youthful idealism and charm, a nifty clash of cultures . . . in short, this is a fun novel to end with that complements the two others nicely.


CRYSTAL SOLDIER:  A+ (for action-adventure with a hint of romance).

CRYSTAL DRAGON:  A (for all of the above, plus some really strange, alien worldviews, not all of it from the Sheriekas).

BALANCE OF TRADE:  A- (would’ve liked a bit more resolution to the ending or a sequel; this novel doesn’t precisely end on a cliffhanger, but there’s obvious room for more development that so far hasn’t been explored).

Overall grade:  A.

So what are you waiting for?  Go grab this omnibus — an excellent value — right now, then start plaguing the authors for a sequel to BALANCE OF TRADE.

— reviewed by Barb

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