Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Baen Books Riverdale, NY 2013
I really enjoy the Liaden Universe stories. These are multi-cultural, political intrigue, space operas. The world is rich in character, deep in allusion and insightful in language development. It’s not often that I get this tied up in serial novels. As much as I hate to wait for the next installment I’m happy to dive back into the Machiavellian system of Liaden politics.
Most of the books in the series stand alone. There are a number of editions compiled with the stories featuring one character or another. The generational history of the Korval Clan has been laid out over the many years that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been writing together.
This book does have its own story. But in the realm of the world of Liaden Necessity’s Child is not the best introduction. The multitude of characters and references were overwhelming even to me at the start of the novel. There is certainly a lot of “catching up” that isn’t done even as the scope of the clan is demonstrated.
The story is an interlude, an introduction to the next generation of Korval. There are plot elements that hinge on at least some familiarity with the reason for Plan B and its subsequent fall out. There are scenes that serve to allude to what those familiar with Korval will see as a brilliant mind for navigational calculation in young Syl Vor. Melanti, a critical concept to the culture, is loosely demonstrated and never explained. Even the impact of the conditioning Rys has suffered as an Agent of Change is largely dependent on having seen Val Con yos’Phelium go through it in an earlier novel.
In particular is a scene where Syl Vor’s math tutor pushes him to solving a problem and then demands a proof. His mother fires the tutor and offers to take on his instruction herself until a replacement can be found. She says, “And I will look forward to learning from you, my son.” The suspicion is that Syl Vor’s answers were confounding the tutor and she was pushing him to find the error where her own comprehension failed. In review Syl Vor’s mother recognizes brilliance and sees that she too has something to learn from Syl Vor. But none of that is clear save that I have read so much of the work in the series.
There are many questions left about the underworld (that’s literal) culture being introduced in this novel. The relationship that they have with the Liaden is hinted at, but not clarified in any way. The way that the Bedel hold to their clan is reminiscent of both the Romany and the Liaden. Where the Korval line’s psychic strength comes from their Irish roots (and their relationship to the tree, another thing shown but not to any furthering of the story) the Bedel may have their roots in the Baltics or even in Asia Minor.
As an introduction to a character who promises to expand the Koval empire, this book is a gem. As an introduction to the world of the Liaden Universe it is a total flop. If you are intrigued I highly recommend looking at some of the older material or one of the compilations.