First, let me say that I can’t look at the cover of this book. While I like the cover for Partners far & away the best of the reprints, it’s not so much the image as the grating lack of an apostrophe anywhere in the title (choice of a pilot, or of pilots, it’s possessive, damnit).
Second, readers of the previously-published volumes should be aware these are more like Conflict of Honors than the others, being standalones concerned, in varying degrees, with a romance and with someone coming into their own. Local Custom opens with Er Thom yos’Galan being told that he must enter into an arranged marriage to produce his heir, for the good of the clan. (A particularly absurd two-part first name; I can deal with Val Con, but Er Thom sounds like his parents were afflicted with indecision at the naming ceremony.) He goes to find the woman he met three years ago, Anne Davis, and has never forgotten—intending only to tell her that he loved her, before he has the memory of her removed. To find out that she had a son from their relationship.
Much cultural baggage is added to the plot at this point, as the lovers agonize over what’s going to happen to Shan, their son, and to them. Personally, I found some of the agonizing a bit overwrought at times, especially when I wanted to shake them and say, “Just talk to each other!”—though to be fair, a lot of the misunderstandings sprung from the sort of cultural baggage you hardly know is there.
I enjoyed Scout’s Progress more. Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant mathematician who teaches Scouts (explorers) about the practical implications of the math behind piloting and the faster-than-light drive. She’s also abused and thoroughly cowed by her brother, a nasty cruel piece of work who is unfortunately heir to the clan. Realizing at the start of the book she has to leave, she finds herself winning a Jumpship in a card game. She meets Daav yos’Phelium while working for her Pilot’s license, so she can escape the planet. The focus of the book is on Aelliana coming out of her shell and learning to excel at piloting and having friends; the romance is well done and far less wrenching.
I liked this one a lot, but unfortunately, my knowledge of subsequent events put a bit of a damper on things (Aelliana get assassinated while Val Con is still fairly young, and Daav disappears). Also, the lifemates things that I complained about in Plan B is here as well, in both stories, and it still bothers me: it seems to be a manifestation of One True Destined Love of a Lifetime, which I frankly regard as a dangerous myth. (Then again, I might be reacting more than I would normally to this because having my best-beloved 200 miles away makes me cranky . . . )
One last thing. Er Thom and Daav seem to me to sound awfully like their sons (or rather the other way ’round, I suppose); it was a bit disconcerting at times. I guess I’ll have to re-read the other two volumes to check. Oh, what a burden. *grin*
(I meant to add this to the note on Plan B and forgot. At the end of that book is a copy of Clan Korval’s Tree and Dragon seal (also visible at the authors’ website). It’s a perfectly nice seal, of course, and it’s not its fault that the Dragon looks like Aylee, an alien in the comic Sluggy Freelance. In her most recent phase, she eats potatoes (she used to eat humans) and then when she’s full, she changes shape—oh, and releases an EMP, too. She looks fairly like the Dragon in the strip with her first flight, and rather a lot like in the second-to-last panel of this strip, where she attacks a demon-possesed Gwynn. But Korval’s Dragon probably never went water-skiing . . . )