Sharon Lee & Steve Miller,
Balance of Trade
(Meisha Merlin, 2004)

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller take aficionados of the Liaden Universe back to the days of early trading, well before the era of their most recent series, which ended with I Dare. A young Terran, Jethri, becomes embroiled in a scam that causes him, in turn, to involve a Liaden Master Trader and ship's captain, the lady Norn ven'Deelin. Captain ven'Deellin seems to see merit and potential in the impulsive teenager, to which his own ship's captain and mother is coolly blind, and so, far from ending up shamed and out of pocket, Jethri Gobelyn finds to his astonishment that her assessment of "Balance" (by way of payment of her perceived debt to him) goes in his favour, and he escapes an arranged berth on an ore-carrier to become youngest crewmember on a Liaden vessel trading in a variety of fine goods.

Life may have taken a turn for the better for the youth, but his new position is no sinecure: he has lessons in High and Low Liaden, gives lessons in Terran, learns self-defense and is constantly honing his own natural trading skills in order to deal with care and respect with the rest of the Liaden crew. When the ship makes port and he is invited by the captain to prove his trading ability, he simultaneously makes one true friend and several bitter enemies after inadvertently embroiling himself in Liaden clan and inter-family hostilities. He considers it a bitter punishment when he learns of Captain ven'Deelin's decision to leave him on the Liaden colony planet of Irikwae, in the house of her foster mother; yet it is for his protection and ultimate advantage that he be planet-bound for a while. Spaceship bred, the open air, vineyards and mountains of Irikwae are terrifying to him, yet he masters his fears and becomes involved in the daily routine of the house, which always has the potential for new disaster or disgrace for a headstrong Terran -- especially in conjunction with the twin telepathic nieces of the lady of the house!

This is an involved tale replete with the familiar treacheries and rigid manner system of Liaden society, where every word must be weighed, every bow measured to a nicety, to avoid calamitous consequences. Jethri, while by no means impervious to clan and house politicking, is a breath of fresh Terran air blowing through the insular minds of the planetside people, and he gradually matures from impetuous teen into a young man with "melanti," a fine sense of his own worth and that of others, and of the appropriate nature of Balance and Trade. He retains the curiosity and diligence apparently inherited from his late father, and a certain amount of his mother's alternately feisty and implacable nature also appears to have rubbed off on him!

Readers newly come to the Liaden Universe will enjoy this introduction, its sly humour and its derring-do, and the fascinating characters who populate trade space; fans will eagerly devour this much anticipated novel and on, turning the last page, will either turn to the first again or lose themselves in the other publications while they patiently wait for the next Liaden tale!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 29 May 2004

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