At Boskone this past weekend, I picked up the latest Liaden book by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, I Dare. (I didn’t happen to meet the authors or hear them speak, though Chad did attend a panel they were on.) This concludes the “Agent of Change” sequence, picking up where Plan B left off.
I found this an enjoyable but slightly disappointing book. I should say that I read the Liaden books for the people: Shan, Miri, Val Con, Priscilla, Sheather, and all the rest are fabulous, vivid, living-and-breathing characters and I really like spending time with them. So, okay, I’ll swallow the happy coincidence that allows the dramatic big set-piece confrontation at the end, and the utter one-dimensional stupidity of the villains, and whatever. (However, I do object to the cliffhanger ending. I don’t mind life-goes-on endings, like Tigana‘s, and if the book had stopped just three pages earlier, it would have been fine. Throwing those pages in, though, when the next three books are going to be about other people, seemed gratuitous.) And yup, the lifemates thing still bothers me, but I was expecting that.
I think my real problem with the book is that it feels unbalanced. It largely splits its focus between Miri, Val Con, and the rest of the people on Lytaxin on the one hand, and Pat Rin on the other. Which is all well and good, but Pat Rin’s part of the story covers about six months from the opening to the climax, while the Lytaxin crowd’s covers four days—in what feels like about the same number of pages, though I admit I didn’t count. I’m happy to see these characters, but a lot of the Lytaxin stuff seemed not to advance the story that much, and the contrast with Pat Rin’s very busy life was striking.
Pat Rin’s part of the story, by itself, posed another balance (small “b”) problem for me. Don’t get me wrong; I was quite pleased to see Pat Rin take center stage. Gordy asked, way back [*] in Carpe Diem, “Then why’s he like that?” Shan’s response, “Well, I suppose, that like most of us, he’s not finished yet,” both indicates why I like Shan so much and why spending more time with Pat Rin was interesting. I happen to like becoming-human stories, which I think it’s fair to characterize this as. But part of Pat Rin’s becoming human is his falling in love, and his growing love affair—plus his lover—are just sketched. I don’t object to subtle love stories; at one level, that’s what The Last Hot Time is, after all. But it’s quite a contrast with the other Liaden stories, where the relationships and the characters are central and thoroughly developed.
Okay. Two more gripes and then I’m done. One is a gripe about the physical book, not the writing: the copy editing was just bad. Sure, I’m probably unusual in being bothered by random extra spaces between words and around punctuation, or curly quotation marks going the wrong way, or periods sometimes being inside quotes, sometimes outside; but I notice and it distracts me. The other is actually a rehash of one of my American Gods complaints: maybe Val Con can forgive what he learns on Lytaxin, but I found it morally repugnant and I’m both annoyed at the person who did it and at him for not being madder about it. (In the coincidence department, we learn in this book that another of Val Con’s nicknames is—Shadow.)
Hmm. If I’m complaining about balance, I should have spent more words talking about the things I liked, but they 1) require less explanation and 2) are mostly spoilers, anyway. Besides, even stretching this typing out over a few days (yay, backdating posts on Blogger Pro), my wrists are hurting. Overall, I did like it; I just didn’t love it the way I did some of the earlier Liaden books.
[*] Maybe someone out there can help me. In the following quote, what is the apostrophe before “way” standing for: “tucked all tidy and peaceful into a pretty little cave that was ‘way to small for them”? It’s not a usage I’ve come across before, and it’s used more than once in the book.