Sharon Lee
& Steve Miller,
I Dare
(Meisha Merlin, 2001)

It's difficult to review a volume in an ongoing series when one is not familiar with the series. I Dare is the seventh novel in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe series, and I've read none of the others. I'm quite sure that those who have been following the series are looking forward to reading more about their favorite characters, and I expect they won't be disappointed here. I Dare ties up several plotlines and character progressions, while still leaving hooks on which to hang new tales.

If you are not already a fan of the series, though, I can't recommend starting it, particularly with this volume. I read an advance review copy, and it's possible that they will include a character index, backstory summaries and the like in the final edition. They should, because the new reader desperately needs such aid -- and I suspect that a returning reader would find them useful, too, if they had not read the preceding volumes immediately before this one. The authors offer no context for the events, and it's hard to figure out what's going on and who's who. Skillful authors of a series usually include some background interwoven with the current events, to remind returning readers and inform new ones. Lee and Miller did very little of this. I was confused by the characters, too; they were not drawn distinctly enough for me to keep them straight without an index. And while the bits I gleaned of the social and political structure are potentially intriguing, again the context is absent. Since both character progression and political intrigue are vital to the novel's plots, confusion in these areas was detrimental to my enjoyment of the story.

Without more backstory, some of the plot elements make no sense. One couple becomes "lifemated," which apparently involves complete psychic access to each other's minds and ensures they never ever quarrel, with no indication that they've even met in Real Life or would be able to pick the other out of a crowd. Huh? Nothing seemed to bring this about, either -- it just happened, almost as an afterthought, or because it was necessary to future plot developments but the authors didn't bother going back and weaving it into the plot. Many of the tricky situations were resolved thus; the novel even begins with a deus ex machina element (right after the requisite scene to prove the villains are Really Evil). The relationships written are pat; without wish fulfillment on the reader's part they lack resonance or life. It's a shame, since I'm sure these characters, and the world they inhabit, are clear and alive in the authors' minds -- but they are not successful at communicating this.

While these are serious flaws in the novel, I have a few minor quibbles as well. After reading all 465 pages, I'm still not clear about why they called it "I Dare." None of it is written in the first person, as the title implies, and characters' conflicts about daring are cursory when they exist at all. The title seems to have little to do with the book. I'm also baffled by the eagerness the authors display in hoping that their work will be taken for a commercial product or a franchise novel, as indicated by the way they refer to their created world as the "Liaden Universe (registered trademark)." Registering a trademark is unnecessary for artistic work per se; "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" are registered because they're commercial ventures in which many of the contributors have no ownership in the underlying system. Usually authors of franchise novels would prefer that the novels be taken for "real" novels, so seeing authors who prefer the opposite is puzzling, and offers an intriguing peek into the minds and goals of the authors -- especially since Lois McMaster Bujold, with far more reason, has yet to declare a trademark on Vorkosigan.

I'm sure that fans of the series will appreciate I Dare. Many of the flaws I mention won't be as relevant to them, and it was a reasonably exciting read despite them (as long as I was carried away by the events and didn't try to figure them out much). I can't recommend that new readers start here, though, and it wasn't intriguing or well-written enough to make me want to read the previous volumes. The authors seemingly have more novels coming in the series; I hope they take this opportunity to include some grounding, both in auxiliary materials and in the narrative.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 9 February 2002

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