Review: Scout’s Progress

Why is it that I always leave the monthly scifi challenge book down to the last minute? I picked this one up randomly in a used bookstore, probably because when I read the back it mentioned her being a brilliant mathematician, and I have a thing for smart people. Also I’ve never read a space opera before, or at least nothing that’s actually labeled as a space opera, so it was new and exciting territory for me.

The book’s by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, neither of whom I’d ever read before, but since this seems to be part of a series and I did enjoy it I’ll probably hunt down more of them.

From the first page we’re thrown into a whole different culture, at first I thought it was one where women were considered inferior, but when I noticed that the head of Aelliana’s house is a female I realized it was just the relationship between herself and her brother that was like that. It’s because her brother is so abusive, and on top of that will one day be the head of the family, or Delm as it’s called, that she decides to run away. But being both practical and not very self confident she realizes that she has no means of escaping to a Terran world.

Then she wins a space ship. Realizing this could be her means of escape she decides to learn to pilot it, keeping it a secret from her brother, (who she knows will take it away if he finds out) until she gets her license.

Aelliana’s character is interesting. As mentioned before she’s not very self confident most of the time. But every once in a while her real personality, before it was beaten down by her brother, comes through. When she’s teaching she’s confident enough because she knows her stuff, and a scene with her teaching is shown early enough in the book that you realize there’s still some spunk left in her, confirmed in the scene at Chonselta Port when she’s had a bit to drink and takes the bet of her quarter share against a ship.

The culture on Liaden is also well developed. You realize right away that the customs are going to be different when the book starts with a conversation at the breakfast table in which Sinit, Aelliana’s younger sister mentions how strange Terran’s are to be able to marry who they want and not have a Delm to tell them what to do. Each family, (or clan, or House) is controlled by the Delm, the Nadelm is the person next in line to be the Delm, in Aelliana’s case her sadistic older brother, Ran Eld. The Delm’s generally control the household and make the decisions.

The difference when it comes to marriage is an important point in this book, since Daav is arranging a marriage through most of it, and Aelliana was married to a brutal friend of her brother’s when she was younger. For Liaden marriage is just another transaction, a way for a clan to get more income or an heir. They aren’t permanent, they last as long as it takes for a child to be born, (in this way houses get heirs from each member of the family) and the family not keeping the child  is given compensation. In fact we’re told right off that Aelliana’s older sister Voni has been married five times and was expecting a sixth proposal any day now. Despite Aelliana’s bad experience most people are fine with the way marriage works.

Though her current Delm had promised Aelliana that she wouldn’t have to marry again, her brother makes it clear that that promise will only last until he become Delm, at which point he’ll be free to marry her off to whoever he likes. Realizing this is what first makes her decide to run away.

There is one clan, a High House, that is different from the others, the Korval, or Dragon. Some of it is explained in the second chapter by Daav to his sister in law, who is a Terran that became lifemates with his brother. Though I found that whole part of the book a bit clunky, as though Daav is explaining everything for the reader, not as part of the story, their family origins are interesting and seem like they might be from one of the other books in this universe, (but I have no idea if that’s true)

All in all I enjoyed the book, a lot of thought was clearly put into the society Lee and Miller created, and they emphasized the differences with the Terran Anne and the Scouts that Aelliana works with and ends up befriending. This will probably end up being one of those books I go back to regularly and I’m definitely planning a trip to the used bookstore where I got this one to see if they have any others.

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