Dear Charles Please don't think I'm running away.
–Kate Elliott - Jaran
Novels of the Jaran, book 1
The Chapalii empire rules over all the known galaxy. Earth and all her allies have been subsumed, not conquered, into it. But no humans have any real understanding of exactly how Chapalii culture or society works. After Earth’s one rebellion they rewarded the leader, Charles Soerenson, with a dukedom, who can explain that? And Charles has declared his sister Terese (Tess) as his heir, which means that is always being watched. People know who she is, and fame is not something that Tess is comfortable with.
She is so uncomfortable with it, in fact, that she thinks she needs to run away from it all. She is fed up with being judged as Charles’ sister, as his heir, instead of her own person. Not that she really knows who she is, not yet. All her life she has lived with duty and the knowledge of how Charles expects her to be. Her own wants, needs, and desires have been put on the back burner. Obligations weigh her down.
So she boards a ship and heads off, and sneaks aboard a shuttle that she believes is heading for a city she knows. Unfortunately the Chapalii crew are keeping something from her and she ends up stranded, in the middle of the grasslands, all alone, hundreds if not thousands of miles from anywhere.
But she is lucky, she is found by the jaran, a nomadic tribe that live on the planet. They know nothing of other planets or aliens, and Tess must not reveal the truth to them. First contact, in a way, with a Prime Directive of her own.
So she must figure out how to live with them, but also what exactly the Chapalii are up to. They shouldn’t even be on this planet, it is forbidden to them.
I loved this book. Loved it.
Earlier this year I finished Elliott’s Crosssroads trilogy, and I loved that. It was such a great read (and there is more from that ‘verse due soon *joy*). And this is a great read too. It is Tess’ story for the most part. She’s thrown in among the jaran people and has to figure out that culture as well as how to get word to her brother about what the Chapalii are doing, and you know, figuring out what they are doing.
Personally I loved this book, but it isn’t perfect. There were moments reading it when I was totally confused by who was talking, although that might be because I was loving the book so much that I really wanted to get to the next chapter. I inhaled the book rather than savoured it1 But also the whole marriage thing among the Jaran was a bit huh-worthy. In general women initiate sexual/romantic encounters. For a man to be too forward is bad for his reputation, but where marriage is concerned men have all the control. To marry a woman a man simply cuts, or marks, her face. She has no say unless she can stop him before he does it. Of course, if she has family they may react if the husband is unsuitable in their eyes, but still, not how’d I’d like to do it. But Elliott doesn’t portray this “marking” as a positive thing, many marriages are unhappy because of the lack of agency in this regard.
Tess is also a bit of a white saviour character. She comes to the Jaran and, despite offering them nothing, she is accepted into the tribe and into an important family, learns to live as they do and yet is allowed greater freedom because she is an outsider. But I didn’t really mind that because even Tess raises that point in her interactions with the others. And also I just loved the story so I am more than prepared to forgive some issues.
It is a science fiction book, but for much of it felt like a fantasy one as the Jaran don’t have much by the way of technology, they are sort of Mongol-esque tribes people, and then there is the romance aspect of it, which you can see coming from the opening encounter, but it is all about the “how” not the who ends up together that makes it such a readable book.
In short, if you like science-fiction with an emphasis on character and social interactions rather than science this is a book for you. This also works, a certain amount, as a stand-alone novel, although there are three other books published in the series.
Go read it.
so it’ll be a great reread whenever I get around to that ↩