For those of you who haven't heard of the marvelous Liaden Universe books, I recommend that you read my blog entry on why you should apply for a visa to this fantastic world of ultra-polite, golden-skinned people with razor-sharp wits and a strong sense of honor.
Crystal Soldier, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's latest entry into the Liaden Universe is the first half of a duology that traces the beginnings of Clan Korval.
This, from the jacket copy, is a quick sum of the book:
"In a galaxy worn down by generations of wear against an implacable foe (sheriekas), a star pilot's mission brings him an unexpected ally and a chance to serve his troop-and mankind.
M Jela Granthor's Guard is a soldier whose genes were selected before birth, whose life was chosen for him as one of service and dedication.
Cantra yos'Phelium is an ace pilot and a...rogue, who trades in the dark and gray markets along the war-torn rim, running solo, with an eye firmly on her own profit."
Though his name sounds a bit like a pedigreed dog or a racehorse, M. Jela Granthor's Guard is one cool customer, and a big-shouldered guy whom the reader grows to love in short order.
Cantra is a more edgy, and one gets the idea that there's a lot more simmering underneath her hardened exterior than we are told. Then there's the Tree, who is just as much a character as the people involved in the story. I felt the Tree was rather like an old Buddhist or wise man, dispensing pods and whispers as it saw fit.
Things progress nicely with Cantra and Jela, though the sexual tension was held out until the last possible chapter. My only concern with the characters was that both Cantra and Jela are genetically-created people, not natural born, from what I gather, thus lending them extraordinary powers of survival and fighting capabilities. I would have felt better had I known that there was a regular person involved who has only the power of their mind to help them survive. All the main characters were just a bit too exceptional, and I like to have an underdog to root for.
But, other than that minor problem, the rest of the book was divine, and told in the usual fast-paced, rich and textured way that Lee and Miller tell their stories. They always leave one longing for more. The reader finds him or herself transported to a very well-built world where the people are so real, you expect to meet them on the street. They always have witty dialogue and characters with a good sense of humor, even in the most grim of circumstances. I don't wish to give away too much of the story line, but I found the fate of the created slave pods particularly fascinating. I am sure our two heroes will encounter the sinister Uncle in the next book, Crystal Dragon.
I can't wait to see what happens next!