(cover from Fantastic Fiction)
Mouse and Dragon is the new Liaden Universe novel from Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and like the last two of their books I've reviewed (here and here), it's for existing fans of the series only. It's a direct sequel of Scout's Progress, first published ten years ago. In fact, it starts immediately where the previous book ended, with no prologue or other explanation.
Scout's Progress was a standalone book, albeit part of a series with common characters and setting. Mouse and Dragon is definitely not. The first book was a real tearjerker, especially at the end, and this one starts off the same way (and continues pretty much for the whole book). It's more romance than science fiction, but all of these books have been heavy on the romance. Still, it's a fascinating culture with some great characters. Unfortunately, we already know all that.
As usual for these authors, this book is well-written, but it suffers from two problems. The first is that we already know what's going to happen. The book fills in a small gap in the series (a gap that didn't need to be filled, IMHO), so we know exactly how it's going to end. And I've got to say that the authors really have nothing new to say about the setting or the characters. As part of a long-running series, it's just... filler. Their last book, Saltation, had the same problems.
I haven't said anything about the plot, because there's nothing much to say. Although we thought that Daav Yos'Phelium and Aelliana Caylon had solved their problems and were free to marry, Clan Mizel drags its feet. Of course, we know the problem is solved, if you're familiar with the series (and if you're not, you shouldn't be reading this book). And we know what happens after that. There aren't any surprises - indeed, there can't be any surprises, not without contradicting the rest of the series.
And as I say, we don't learn anything new about Liaden culture or about these familiar characters. So why continue a series if you don't have anything new to say? At least Saltation can promise something new in the next book. This one can't even do that much.
OK, if you're a diehard fan of the series, and you want every detail you can get of the Liaden Universe, no doubt you'll want to read this. It's a romantic tearjerker, just as you'd expect, and it's an enjoyable read. But it's just cotton candy. There's nothing of substance to it. It's an entertaining read, but an hour later, you'll wonder what was the point.
I hate to say this, because I really admire Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I'm a big fan. They tried getting away from the Liaden series with The Tomorrow Log (2003), but I'm guessing that didn't sell very well. And maybe they really don't have anything new to say about Liad. But one of my favorites in the series is the standalone novel, Balance of Trade, which has completely different characters on a different world. And even Fledgling introduced a new character on a new planet, with a culture all its own.
So instead of filling in these tiny gaps in the existing story, or even continuing into the future with the same characters, why not move on to the next generation? Or make a bigger change, to a different planet with all new characters, even if it's still in the Liaden Universe. A universe is a big place, after all.