Sharon Lee
& Steve Miller,
Conflict of Honors
(Del Rey, 1988; Meisha
Merlin, 2000; Ace, 2002)

Conflict of Honors is my first foray into the Liaden universe created by husband-and-wife authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, but it will not be my last! I have seldom been so gripped by science fiction, loath to leave the page unturned and the outcome unknown. Not since Ann McCaffrey's character-driven adventures in co-authorship with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough or Jody Nye Lynn have I been so taken with new fictional characters or alien races.

On a world where the religion of the Goddess is followed, teenage initiate Priscilla Delacroix is declared legally dead -- by her mother, the High Priestess. Ten years later she is in the chancy service of a Liaden spaceship, Daxflan, cynical, wary and exhausted with maintaining her vigilance against the predatory crew. Her suspicion of her colleagues is well founded, as she is tricked into landing on a lacklustre world, mugged, beaten unconscious and left abandoned to the fate of a thief. With no recourse for revenge, no coin to pay her way and her true reputation and skills destroyed, courtesy of falsified records posted by her former employers, she appears once again bereft of hope, but a quirk of fate brings her a job interview with the quixotic Shan yos'Galen, another Liaden, but one with his own agenda and a grudge against the Daxflan.

The enigmatic yos'Galen, heir apparent to Clan Korval, ship Captain, master Trader and Healer, is the complete antithesis of the cunning and conniving Sav Rid Olanek, master Trader on Daxflan, a ship owned by Clan Korval's rival house, Clan Plemia. Priscilla treads carefully in her new position on Dutiful Passage. She is treated with unexpectedly hostile suspicion by the first mate, and is equally unaccustomed to the easy friendship offered by the remaining crew or the deep companionship and healing offered by the ship's librarian. She finds herself constantly thrown off-balance by the shadows and light of the captain's multifaceted personality. There is an undoubted attraction between them, but this is not a book that follows the predictable path; as the story proceeds and the counterplots evolve, there is a pleasing equilibrium between psychological and physical, internal and external forces. Complex personal histories balance overt physical dangers, alert defense reactions counter emotional vulnerabilities, soft and tender moments of empathy contrast with prickly misunderstanding while compassion and decency war openly with callousness and deceit.

I am now eager to read the other novels in the Liaden universe and keen to see short stories in the series collected and republished. Lee and Miller have a strong sense of drama, a decided flair for intriguing characters and set a lively pace for space and planet-side action. The Liaden universe and its inhabitants pull at the imagination like a neutron star attracts matter: one reading, and you are snared in its magnetism!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 22 March 2003

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