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Meisha Merlin Does It Again!
Pilot's Choice
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
If for nothing but the Liaden books, i would praise Stephe Pagel and his Meisha Merlin press to the skies; but wait! -- there's more!

However, what we're here for is to talk about Liadens and Terrans and their interactions.

Indeed, there is a strong flavour of Georgette Heyer's Regency romances in most of the Liaenn Universe material -- a bit less so in "Agent of Change" and "Carpe Diem", which are a bit more action novels and less contemplative than "Conflict of Honors" or the two halves of the present book, both of which play out their conflicts primarily in the area of melant'i and interpersonal relationships.

The first, "Local Custom", makes clear, in a way that the references in "Conflict" didn't really, just what a shocking misalliance Er Thom yos'Galan made for himself, and what a scandal and problem not just for him but for his entire Clan it must be.

Luckily all is well and works out in the end, because Korval is going to need Shan and his sisters.

While "Local Custom" is, shall we say, Important, and quite enjoyable, i found it more of a light read and less Deeply Interesting than "Scout's Progress", the second half of the book.

One of Heyer's more useful plots is the one in which one or other or both of the main protagonists is unaware of the true identity of the other; this is the basic McGuffin that makes "Scout's Progress" go.

Aelliana Caylon is a painfully
unworldly woman, eldest daughter of a perfectably respectable but somewhat shabby-genteel Clan of the second rank. If she were not able to contribute to the clan's coffers through her work as a mathematics instructor, she would be expected to contract repeated profitable contract marriages. ((This is even nastier than the situation in Heyer, wherein a young woman might well expect to be forced into a loveless marriage for her family's benefit -- but only once.))

Matters are, of course, made worse by the scheming of her elder brother, the nadelm, who, among other things, needs to get his hands on her quarter share to pay off his own debts, but who, in the manner of a Villain True Born also simply enjoys tormenting Small Helpless Things. He is nasty because he can be, and she won't fight back, and their mother, the delm, doesn't realise. And Aelianna has not get enough money of her own to flee him and also to be able to survive, clanless, afterward.

But Things Change when Aelliana, fleeing Ran Del, falls in with some of the Scouts that she teaches Advanced Mathematics, and goes with them to a new, elaborate gambling house...

And she wins a ship.

Now all she needs is to learn how to fly it.

And that is where a former Scout she meets who is working as a maintenance tech at the port facility where her new ship is berthed.

His name is Daav; she -- unworldly as she is -- never happens to discover his Clan or House.

Meanwhile, Daav yos'Phelium is being pushed into a contract marriage for the benefit of Korval which neither he nor the lady involved (or indeed, The Tree) want or welcome.

The working-out of their relationship, and the flowering of Aelliana as she realises that she is not the useless incompetent that her brother has her more than half-convinced that she is -- and the hideous danger that comes upon her as a result of his punishment -- make this my second-favourite Liaden story (after "A Conflict of Honors").

((Both stories in this volume, incidentally, painlessly feed us a few necessary Large Expository Lumps regarding how the overall Liaden system functions, Korval Clan history and just what pilot quals and training are like. I wish other authors could do it as well and nearly invisibly.))

((At least one other reviewer has remarked that they don't know what to recommend to the reader who finishes these stories and wants more, more or less similar, freading material, aside form the actual Regency Romances of Georgett Heyer -- i would recommend the "Mageworlds" books of MacDonald & Doyle, which series begins with "The Price of the Stars"...))
"Painfully" so to me, anyway -- despite the fact that her character as drawn is quite believable, is exactly what one would expect her circumstances and upbringing to produce, and is not such an antidote as to make me actually dislike her, i kept wishing i could reach into the page, biff her lightly on the back of the head with my fingertips and go "Hey! Wake up -- look around -- this is Life, get with the program!"
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The Mass Market Begins To Notice
Local Custom

Steve Miller & Sharon Lee

It's nice to see the mass-market publishers noticing Miller & Lee again after so many years (this volume is actually the first half of Meishe Merlin's original omnibus volume, Pilot's Choice). My recommendation is to puchase the MM volume, though this one might make a nice give-away to acquaint friends with the Liaden Universe though it's not the story i'd choose for that -- Conflict of Honors would be my choice in that regard, i think, were it available in a similar stand-alone version.

The 3-star rating is for this story as a stand-alone.