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.