Completed 1/1/2021, Reviewed 1/3/2021
This book was another surprise for me. Nebula Winner for 2001, it looked more like a heavy romance than science fiction. Also, it’s the sixth book in a long series and although the reviews said it was standalone, I couldn’t wrap my head around jumping into the middle. The first 40 or 50 pages felt like it was just another romance with court drama, but it quickly became a different beast. There was lots of well-explained science and surprising revelations. And the book stood on its own. I ended up really enjoying it.
Kamoj is the young governor
of her province on a distant planet. She’s
betrothed to Jax, the abusive governor of the neighboring province, solely for
the consolidation of power and to rescue her people from economic
disaster. She meets a mysterious
stranger who puts up a massive dowry for her, and by law, winning the right to
marry her. It turns out the stranger is
a prince named Havyrl, or Vyrl, from another planet. The marriage actually works as Vyrl reveals
himself to be a gentle, loving husband.
His big flaw is that he is an alcoholic, though he doesn’t abuse Kamoj
during his drunken episodes, unlike Jax.
Jax, however, will not let Kamoj go, kidnaps her, and sues Vyrl for
marriage under coercion.
Well, I guess the plot
does sound like a heavy romance, but there’s so much more to it. First, it’s actually an analog for quantum
scattering theory. You really don’t know
it until you read the afterword where the author describes the theory and how
it relates to the plot. Second, it’s a
small piece of a much larger space opera.
You figure out that you would have understood more background if you had
read the five earlier books. But as I
said, it’s not really necessary to appreciate this one. Third, the science that is described within is
interesting and surprising. To go into
much detail would be a spoiler, but the basic gist is genetic manipulation. Lastly, the book felt like a Beauty and the
Beast homage, although it wasn’t quite a Stockholm Syndrome plot. The genetic manipulation has a part in this
aspect of the book.
I liked Kamoj. I liked her more as the book progressed and
we find out not only more about her past, but about the role of genetic
manipulation in her life. Vyrl is a good
guy and I really rooted for him as he fought with his alcoholism. I think it’s the first time I’ve encountered
alcoholism in a science fiction story. I
thought it was done particularly well.
The reason why he began self-medicating is intense, though it’s another
spoiler, so I won’t give it away. Jax is
a dastardly manipulator and plays upon all of Kamoj’s gentle qualities to keep
her in the spiral of the abuse.
As I write this, I
realize much of the book can’t be described because so much of it is done as
big revelations and discussing it would be a big spoiler. I also realize that maybe I’m a little more
of a sucker for a good romance than I let myself believe. So I give this book four stars out of
five. I was enrapt through most of the
book, although I felt the end dragged a bit and was somewhat predictable. But the ride to the end was very
exciting. The writing was really good,
with decent prose and believable dialogue.
I don’t know if I’ll read any more of the series. I read this because my next big personal
challenge is to read the seventeen Nebula winners I have not read yet. And while I really liked this book, I just
don’t find myself reading the other seventeen books in the series.