Sunday, April 28, 2013

Necessity's Child by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

(Cover image from Amazon.com)

Necessity's Child (2013) is another in the Liaden series of science fiction by the husband and wife team, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I've reviewed several of their books here, but only the more recently published ones, and you really don't want to start in the middle of the series.

If you want a sample, try Balance of Trade (2004), which might be my favorite, while also being completely separate from the rest of the series. (It's set in the same universe, but with completely different characters.)

Or start at the beginning with Agent of Change (1988), also found in the omnibus volumes Partners in Necessity (2000) or The Agent Gambit (2011). But don't start with this one.

However, if you're a fan of the series, you'll know exactly what to expect - appealing characters, an emphasis on manners and other cultural matters, and a pronounced, deliberate, even blatant - but still effective - tug at a reader's heartstrings.

I suspect that any fan of this series will find Necessity's Child to be an enjoyable read. I didn't mean to read this book yesterday, but I picked it up when I sat down with a beer, after working all afternoon in the yard, and I didn't put it down until I'd finished. It's lots of fun. But it's not perfect.

The book focuses on new characters to the series, including Nova's young son, Syl Vor. There are three main characters, all new, all very appealing and likeable, with three separate threads which come together into one story.

In a long series like this, introducing new characters helps keep the series fresh, giving the authors not just new people to show us, but new perspectives, too. In this case, we get to see things from a child's eyes. We also see a different culture. The story is set on Surebleak, which has not been my favorite storyline, but we encounter a new, hidden culture there now.

True, that culture isn't very imaginative. They're just Gypsies - though they're not called that (nor Romani, either) - stranded on the planet, staying hidden from the gadje, surviving by theft and trickery. Of course, their magic is real - the Liaden series is filled with psychic powers - but that's all.

There could have been an interesting problem here, since these Bedel are too few to survive inbreeding (this is the far future, but there's no cloning technology, apparently) but won't integrate for fear of losing their unique culture. My sympathies are always with integration, myself, but none of this was really addressed, anyway.

Of course, if you want ideas, this isn't the series for you. These are appealing people in colorful circumstances, with a healthy dose of sentiment (not romance, not in this particular book, at least) and psychic magic. It's a quick, easy, entertaining read, but you don't want to take it very seriously.

In fact, Necessity's Child has a few situations which are so unbelievable that I felt rather stupid for even liking the book. I did like it - it's lots of fun - but even with this kind of book, there's a limit to what I'm willing to swallow.

For example (avoiding spoilers, as much as possible), twice in this book there are cases of instant attraction - not sexual - which seem to make no sense at all. I could buy it - just - in the child's case, as the bored, lonely child was desperate for a playmate. After all, their culture embraced fostering children in other homes, so he was brought up to think that was normal (if not exactly the way he went about it). But in the other, in a particularly suspicious society which shunned anyone outside their own culture, it was just completely ridiculous.

The end of the book makes no sense, either. How could Clan Korval survive so long if they were that stupid? Even today, government officials would be acutely aware of the danger, and in this storyline, they'd already had abundant evidence of that kind of malice.

I don't want to go into details, because I do want to avoid spoilers. But even in this kind of book - romantic-fantasy science fiction, basically, a sort of feel-good tear-jerker set on another planet, far in some magical future - where we don't expect much in the way of logic or intriguing ideas, these are big flaws - at least, for me.

If you're a fan of the series, I suspect that you'll like this book. After all, it does very well what the series does very well. And I enjoyed it, myself. But when I finish a book rather embarrassed that I did enjoy it, I'd say there's something wrong.

Maybe this won't bother you, but it did me.

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