Kate Elliott, |
(DAW, 1992; 2002)
The plot is simple and far too familiar. The heroine, struggling for her identity, meets an attractive young man. They fall in love, her path is decided, and the tale wraps up neatly. And those who think that's the only path Kate Elliott is following in Jaran will be left shocked and lost.
Tess Soerenson meets the identity-challenged requirement. Sister of the most famous human man in a populously alien universe, smothered by his reputation, she works her way into the primitive, matrilineal Jaran society. She is soon welcomed by the most powerful women in camp, learning the odd politics of an alien society on a planet ruled by her brother Charles, and getting tangled in the plans set by the Chapalii, the ruling aliens who gave Charles his planet.
She also meets Bakhtiian, the new visionary of the Jaran. He has grand plans of uniting the tribes of riders against the kaja, the non-Jaran city dwellers, to take back the ground they've lost. He's arrogant, suspicious and rude to Tess from the start. He's also darkly handsome, so anyone familiar with the rules of cinematic romances will realize from this that Bakhtiian is Tess's True Love, since she has no reason to like him. It's too bad, because all Tess' other relationships come together in an easy, unforced way that shows Elliot has a fine understanding of human behavior, whatever planet it's on. Especially sweet is Tess' relationship with her adopted brother, Yuri. Fictional men and women aren't often allowed close platonic friendships, and it's nice to see one that works so well. Her other lovers, the sad Fedya and the tribal playboy Kirill, are mutually rewarding, respectful, casual affairs that give Tess enough room to display her growing independence and have more fun than she had in her old life.
But Elliott has managed a rare trick: Tess's journey towards personal realization visibly tilts a world much wider than her own. Her relationship with Bahktiian is as much a political dance as a romantic one, even if neither is quite aware of it. Bahktiian himself actually is magnetic and compelling, in spite of his deep flaws. It's easy to understand why not only Tess, but an entire nation, would grow to follow him. The politics uniting the contentious Jaran, and dividing them from the town dwellers, are consistently aggravating and believable. Bahktiian is the link to the world of politics Tess is trying to avoid, and his story always suggests the greater conflict that lies ahead, in spite of Tess's attempts to draw her world tighter and calmer around her.
Jaran is the lead book of a series, but feels complete by story's end. The foreshadowed consequences of Tess's free loving, the politics of the Chapalii and the effects of Tess's developing social power all remain to be explored. Like Tess, I look forward to spending more time in the world of the Jaran.