Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge. That means I'm finally more or less on schedule. It's the first book of a series of four, being released in e-book format by Open Road Media. They have been kind enough to provide me with a review copy of this first volume. Jaran was originally published in 1992. It was the first novel Elliott published under this pseudonym after her first three novels sold modestly. Since then, a steady stream of fantasy and science fiction novels have appeared. Definitely a notable voice in the genre for the past couple of decades, it is only fitting that I sample her work for this reading challenge.
After a brief expansion following the discovery of interstellar flight, humanity's empire has been incorporated into that of a more advanced and much older alien civilization. Their rule lies lightly on their subjects but not everybody is comfortable with it. Charles Soerensen starts a rebellion and when it fails is, incomprehensibly to most humans, rewarded with a position in the empires nobility. Lacking children, Charles appoints his much younger sister Tess to be his heir. She wants noting to do with it, preferring her studies in linguistics over a life of political intrigue but she is drawn into it nevertheless when she uncovers an intrusion into the fief of her brother but one of the alien factions. Against her better judgment. she decides to investigate the matter and ends up cut off from interstellar civilization, marooned on a planet with a pre-industrial society. It will take a continent spanning trek to get back in touch again with her brother. As time passes, Tess becomes increasingly unsure if getting back is what she really wants.
I guess you could call this novel science fiction, it has aliens and spaceships and incomprehensible technology after all. Most of the novel is set in a low tech environment however, giving much of the narrative more of a fantasy atmosphere. For good measure Elliott also adds a generous measure of romance to the story, making it something of a hybrid. I don't think fans of had science fiction will find this book to their liking but for readers who read across multiple genres, there is lot be be had here.
Most of the story revolves around Tess. There are short interluded featuring Charles scattered throughout the novel. They are mostly concerned with the search for his missing sister and his political manoeuvres. A lot of these scenes are used to impress on the reader that the planet Tess is on, is not quite what it seems. One unanswered question for instance, is how human beings came to populate it. From these sections it becomes quite clear that this book is the first volume in a much longer work. The bare outlines of what Charles is trying to do become clear but not much beyond that.
Tess' story is much more fleshed out. She faces a whole lot of challenges after being marooned. Learning a new language, adapting to among a nomadic tribe, learning to ride on horseback and use a saber and of course come to terms with the conflict between the duty she has to her family and the feeling she is developing for Ilya Bakhtiian, the leader of the tribe she is adopted into. A large part of the novel is devoted to the complicated relationship between Ilya and Tess and to be honest I thought it dragged a bit. Elliott is quite wordy throughout the novel. I think it could have been a bit more concise here and there.
Elliott uses the conflict between a group of fiercely independent nomadic tribes and encroaching agricultural civilizations as a source of conflict and the driving force for Ilya's actions. He is the man who can unite the tribes and push back the settlers. There is a district echo of Gengis Kahn here. Ilya is a hard man, driven by an all consuming vision for the tribes. His struggle to unite them is probably harder than the campaign he means to wage against the settlers. The nomads are used to being divided into a thousand tribes, warring and feuding against each other. Their independence is ingrained in their culture, expressing itself in every aspect of life, from leadership to sexual morals. Ilya's ideas are unprecedented among the tribes, getting them to agree, by the strength of he personality, his strong arm or the power of his arguments, is half the victory. Ilya is arrogant, harsh, ruthless and apparently quite irresistible to Tess.
Tess' journey is not only physically demanding. Along the way she finds out that she wants different things from life than her brother envisions for her. She is torn between returning and staying with the tribes. Of course she is a well educated woman and quite aware what awaits the tribes once Ilya pushes them forward in battle. The universe is far larger than they can imagine and this knowledge presses on Tess. I think that aspect of the novel is a bit underexposed. The temptation to enlighten them must be overwhelming. Her brother, in a way, can't resist it.
Jaran is a novel that promises a lot for the next volume in the series and offers a decent story arc of its own. That said, it is not a particularly demanding read. If you can let yourself be carried away by Tess' dramatic journey it is a very entertaining read. There is a deeper layer to the novel that I would not have minded seeing more of however. For a novel with a print length of almost five hundred pages, it makes very little progress in the political intrigue that is introduced. It is a very good adventure novel but demands patience from the reader who wants more than that. I can see myself reading the next volume in between some heavier reading.
Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher: Open Road Media
First published: 1992