Lee, Sharon, and Steve Miller: (08) Balance of Trade

Balance of Trade is the latest novel by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, currently available in electronic form from Embiid Publishing. (A hardcover will be out in February 2004.)

I have decided that Lee and Miller have lost their ability to confine their plots to the boundaries of their books. Though all their prior books have been parts of series, it’s not that they never had the ability: Conflict of Honors (collected in Partners in Necessity) stands alone perfectly well, for instance. But their last two, I Dare and The Tomorrow Log, both ended on cliffhangers. The Tomorrow Log is the start of a new series—mind, there was no obvious indication that it was a series novel on the packaging or promotion, and the earliest a sequel could appear would be after three already-scheduled novels. But I Dare was supposed to wrap up a sequence! And the cliffhanger shows up out of nowhere two pages from the end, displacing a perfectly good life-goes-on ending.

There’s nothing to indicate that Balance of Trade is meant to be part of a sub-series (it’s set in the Liaden universe), though as we’ve seen, this doesn’t mean anything in particular. The story is coming-of-age, and a perfectly serviceable version thereof. The plot is both jumbled, with several different threads mixing uneasily, and overflowing, with a thread raised towards the end apparently just to get people in the right geographical locations, because its substance isn’t addressed. The pacing is also a little strange: there’s intercutting between different characters through nearly all of the book, but the frequency of the cuts jumps suddenly partway through, which I found disorienting.

I bought the electronic version because it was much cheaper, and I’m glad I did. I will read more Lee and Miller books, because they do provide a certain kind of comfort reading for me (and no predestined mystical love in this one, yay), but I won’t be paying hardcover prices for them.

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