My rating: Outstanding Adventure (and favorite!)
(Re-read in October 2013) I love this book. I’ve read it twice now: I remembered liking it so much the first time that I jumped at the chance to review an e-copy.
Jaran is narrated by a strong, independent, determined but unsure heroine who develops a strong sense of self-worth and confidence as she learns how to live (and love) in a community of nomads on a planet called Rhui.
Tess, our main character, is the sister of the only human (and rebel) duke in an older, more technologically advanced alien empire (the Chapalii) – which has subjugated humans as a matter of course. Her brother the duke has interdicted aliens on the planet Rhui, of which he is Prince. He has chosen to protect the Rhuian humans from subjugation by the Chapalii and from unnatural development sparked by exposure to far-advanced technologies.
Tess is a genius linguist who runs away from a broken engagement by hopping a Chapalii trade ship to Rhui. Instead of making it to his palace and comfort, however, she ends up stranded in the middle of the northern plains, alone and desperate. Which is how she meets Ilya Bakhtiian, the novel’s hero. Bakhtiian is the rising star of the Jaran tribes (the nomads), as he unites them against the settled peoples.
The Jaran live in a matriarchal society, although men have power in certain aspects of Jaran life. While the women choose their sexual partners, the men initiate marriage, sometimes without consent. Relationships are not simplified, however – there is evidence that getting hitched without the consent of both parties can make for unhappy marriages. They have an abhorrence of rape and an open approach to sexuality and partners. How refreshing! The matriarchal nature of Jaran society makes it all the more intriguing, while its complexity makes it more realistic. For the Jaran society alone, this book is worth another re-read, in order to catch anything I’ve missed the first two times around.
And WOW, the relationship that develops between these Tess and Bakhtiian as she rides with his war band across the steppes. I love the slow and steady development. She travels with them in order to spy on the Chapalii, whose mysterious plot is the reason she ended up lost in the plains in the first place. As for their relationship, to begin with, Bakhtiian doesn’t trust Tess, and she finds him unbearably smug and irritating. Slowly, their barriers begin to fall, as Tess learns more about herself and Bakhtiian learns to trust her. They fight their unspoken attraction and try to keep their distance, until Bakhtiian decides he can’t live without Tess.
One relationship that almost steals the show is Tess’ adoptive sibling relationship with a rider in Bakhtiian’s war band. I was delighted that Tess’ personal development included not just romantic relationships, but sibling relationships, as well.
Tess endures many hardships, becomes self-confident, spies on the Chapalii, learns to ride and to fight with a saber, gets into trouble, gets out of trouble, makes friends, and falls in love. Her emotional growth makes her a wonderful character to follow. She begins the novel depressed and insecure, and in the foreign circumstances in which she finds herself with the Jaran, she develops self-confidence and mature (and varied) relationships with both women and men in the tribe.
The depiction of nomadic life is vivid. The backdrop of futuristic space travel and intergalactic politics adds spice to the plot, but one of the reasons I love this book so much is that the main scope is zoomed in on the Jaran, their nomadic way of life, and Tess’ indivdual story. The next book appears to widen the scope to focus more on the galaxy and the humans vs. Chapalii struggle. I’m looking forward to reading more about the interspecies relationships and politics. Given the awesomeness of this book, I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Fans of space opera, adventure, alien species interactions, and romance will all enjoy this book. I dare you not to like it! (and I’d love to know if you didn’t).
*e-ARC provided by NetGalley