Monthly Archives: January 2014

Scout’s Progress – Chapter 2

In which Anne seeks the delm’s instruction.

And this chapter re-introduces some of the familiar faces from Local Custom, along with two new complications:

First, Daav is going to be married, an event he’s been putting off for years and would have continued to put off if he had his preference. (I wonder if it makes sense to say that the delm has put his foot down, when it’s Daav’s foot. One thing I’ve noticed about Daav: the flipside of him preferring not to invoke the Delm when some other way to handle the situation exists is that when the Delm does put in an appearance he tends to be extremely strict, and perhaps even more so with Daav than with anyone else.)

Second, Anne discovers what has been hinted a few times but not explicitly stated until now: that Korval considers itself still bound by the contract that made Cantra and her heirs responsible for the safety of the passengers they brought to Liad. I don’t think anything much comes of it in this novel, apart from it further underlining the gap between a certain impoverished scholar and the man who might loosely be described as “the king of the world”, but it will be important later.

Along with Anne’s discovery, this chapter gives us another vague estimate of how long it’s been since Liad was settled. Anne, this time with a more solid knowledge of Korval’s history under her belt, calls it a thousand years, which Daav says is “near enough”.

Scout’s Progress – Chapter 1

In which we are introduced to the persons of Clan Mizel.

New novel, and a new set of characters. This first chapter does a good job of establishing them not only as individuals, but also in relation to each other.

It also does the duty of bringing a reader new to Liad up to speed on some of the key cultural features, by way of Sinit addressing those differences from the other end.

(Sinit Caylon has been one of my favourite characters in the whole series ever since I first read this chapter. She reminds me a lot of me when I was that age.)

Local Custom – Chapter 40

In which the last pieces fall into place.

I think, if memory serves, this is the first place (in publication order) that the lives and times of Cantra and Tor An were described in any detail. And the details given here, I can’t help noticing, differ in some significant respects from how the story was eventually told in the Crystal books. (One could suggest that the differences are due to the details here coming from Cantra’s logbook, which Crystal Dragon tells us she didn’t actually start keeping until after the War, when she would have been depending on a perhaps-fallible memory. Or perhaps she remembered fine, but chose to present things somewhat differently from how they actually happened; I note that one of the differences of detail is that the logbook entry quoted here presents itself as having been written during the War, before Jela’s death.)

A little detail that might easily be missed (in fact, I don’t recall having consciously noted it on any of my previous reads): Anne is now wearing the ring Er Thom gave her, the “never goodbye” present.

Tomorrow: Scout’s Progress

Local Custom – Chapter 39

In which equitable solutions are found for a number of problems.

It’s interesting that Syntebra el’Kemin is apparently not averse to Luken’s attentions. I mean, I totally understand that she might feel more comfortable with him than with his sharper-witted relatives — but if she thought Er Thom old, what does that make Luken?

A thing I like about this chapter is how much warmth and care there is between (at least some of) the members of Clan Korval; between Er Thom and Daav, and between Daav and Luken. (And between Luken and nearly everybody?) I particularly love that, although Luken doesn’t fit in the Korval mould, Daav genuinely appreciates and respects him for who he is.

Local Custom – Chapter 38

In which the pattern of the future becomes clear.

It is sometimes easy to forget just how rich and influential Clan Korval is. The authors generally do a good job of putting them up against problems that can’t be solved by throwing money and influence at them. And then there are moments like this, when Daav casually prevents a cruise liner from leaving port without fear of the consequences. (Though I’m not entirely sure I admire the way he shrugs off the problems he’s creating for the port master.)

Master Healer Kestra is an interesting viewpoint character, able to see under the surface of things and report details that might not have been visible from any other view.

I love each and every one of Shan’s interjections in this chapter.

Local Custom – Chapter 37

In which Anne’s troubles are eased, but Er Thom’s may be just beginning.

I don’t recall what I thought the first time I read this and Daav showed up at the end of the chapter. Probably I had a fairly good idea of what the outcome would be, if not how it would be achieved, if only because this is a prequel. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that despite the suggestion offered in the epigraph, I never suspected Daav for a moment of planning to require a balance-price from Anne for depriving the clan of its son Er Thom. (If nothing else, that would be thoroughly unjust, since it was Er Thom’s own decision, with perhaps some assistance from his mother; Anne, as Daav knows full well, never asked or expected any such thing.)

Local Custom – Chapter 36

In which Er Thom hears Anne calling.

The chapter epigraph lays out, bluntly, how much of a leap into the dark Er Thom is making in choosing to go with Anne: if he leaves the clan to follow her, he leaves everything.

There’s an intriguing bit of worldbuilding in one of the incidental details in this chapter: what kind of place is the Academy of Music on Terra, that it has marksmanship as a required course of study?

Local Custom – Chapter 35

In which several people have urgent business at the Port this morning.

And Er Thom finds himself capable of setting out, without hesitation, on a course of action that would have been literally unthinkable a twelveday ago.

I notice that, just as when Er Thom took Shan, on the day Anne came home and found them gone, the authors are deliberately casting shadow on just what Er Thom intends to when he finds Anne — a last play of the shadow-Er Thom constructed on the model of Shan el’Thrassin. I think I understand why, but I wonder if there was ever a reader who knew Er Thom so poorly by this point as to be taken in by the deception.

Local Custom – Chapter 34

In which nothing is beautiful and everything hurts.

I remember being told once by a connoisseur of heartwarming Christmas movies that a truly great uplifting ending must be preceded, for contrast, by a moment in which everything is terrible and it seems nothing will ever be right again. In the present case, this chapter introduces that moment.

(There are such moments in other Liaden novels, as well; the one that springs immediately to mind is Carpe Diem. On the other hand, there isn’t a moment in Balance of Trade that’s even remotely like, which I think is part of why I’ve never cared for Balance of Trade as much as most of the other novels.)

After the despair, I remember being told, comes the first glimmering of new hope, often in the form of one of the characters discovering that there is more in them than anyone had previously had reason to suspect: a bad person discovering a capacity for good, perhaps, or a weak person discovering inner strength. In the present case — well, we’ll see.

Local Custom – Chapter 33

In which the best service Er Thom might do Syntebra el’Kamin would be to arrange matters so they need never meet again.

We’re getting toward the climax of the story now, which means the pace is picking up, which means the chapters are getting shorter, which means that if one is reading a chapter per day the suspense is being agonizingly dragged out. Argh.

I don’t fault the authors for it, since it’s not in the least implausible, but it is remarkably convenient that Syntebra el’Kamin is so thoroughly unsuited to be part of Korval, thus leaving no shadow on our hope for Er Thom to get together with Anne.

I raised my eyebrows when Syntebra thought of Er Thom as “old”, and went to check the timeline. Er Thom is only 35 years old here, but Syntebra is only 20, so he’s nearly twice her age; she was born around the time of “Pilot of Korval”, when Er Thom was already a qualified pilot and old enough to be travelling on the Passage and getting himself into trouble in an adult’s melant’i.