I first learned about Scout’s Progress through a blogger I follow quite extensively Hannah Heath. She reviews books herself and her description of Scout’s Progress and the Liaden Universe peaked my interest. As you can see by the books I’ve reviewed, I’m a big fan of science fiction and it’s so nice to find a space opera that’s done well.
I think what attracts me the most to the Liaden Universe is just that it’s a universe, like Star Trek or Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. These books are not one-hit-wonders, or a series that needs to be read in chronological order in order to be understood. I’m attracted because the concept I have for my own stories is more like this versus a strict chronology. Ultimately, I understand how that could get a little messy and Shannon Lee says so herself about the universe she has co-created, but I’m happy to find contemporary published books that I can study to help me effectively present my own universe.
Note that Scout’s Progress is book 6 within the Liaden Universe as of March 30, 2016 and that’s whether you look at the books chronologically or based date of publication.
Really? you ask.
Yes! Book 6 of 18.
And to be perfectly honest it totally didn’t matter that this is the only book within the universe that I’ve read so far. Key phrase “so far.” Pretty cool huh?
Apparently there are a lot of questions about what order to read the Liaden books in and which can be read as stand alone. Luckily I got some tips from the author’s website on the subject and of course from Hannah who said she loved Scout’s Progress and I’ve grown to trust Hannah’s taste in books.
Now, enough about me and more about Scout’s Progress by Shannon Lee and Steve Miller…
A WriterAlina Book Review
I was left feeling really good and quite excited (for myself) when I reached the end of this book. I was excited for two reasons: 1) because I had just completed the 6th published book within a fictional universe and I never once felt lost and 2) because I had just finished an extremely satisfying romance. Wow!
Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant mathematician, she’s well known in the piloting community as the one who revised the tables used to jump through hyperspace, saving thousands of lives, and she teaches high mathematics relevant in space travel to potential pilots. But even though she has accomplished so much in her life, Aelliana is convinced by her older, overbearing brother that she has no worth beyond what value she might have in an arranged marriage. Beaten down my constant physical and metal abuse by her brother and by her former arranged husband, Aelliana’s life is bleak with few rays of happiness. That is until the day she lets her guard down and gives her unsolicited opinion about how the family could make more money on investments and is allowed a meager amount of money to prove that she can invest the money wisely. Then on a dare, she plays a game of chance with her meager allowance and wins a starship. A slim ray of hope brightens her reality with idea of independence and escape from her abusive situation. But first she must learn to fly and become a certified pilot before her brother finds out and claims her winnings for himself.
Daav yos’Phelium is an accomplished Scout (one who pilots starships from planet to planet and able to engage in various cultures), a Master Pilot, and head of clan Korval, one of the richest and most powerful clans on Liad. With his days as a Scout over it is his duty, especially as head of clan Korval, to secure a political alliance through contract marriage and sire an heir, even if he feels no love for his betrothed.
Together, Aelliana and Daav take a stand against the strict rules of Liaden life and dare to take control of their own lives for the betterment of themselves and ultimately their clans.
The Story and It’s Delivery
This story is told with a flowery and formal omniscient narrator, which is oddly fitting for the type of society that has been created. The Liaden society has a strict hierarchical structure made up of clans (families), giving a mild sense of a monarchy social structure. Sometimes this too formal delivery worked very well to push the sense of world building into reality and other times was a bit distracting. The use of the formal langue wove the reader into an existing world without exactly “explaining” the world.
- For example, there are a specific ways that people talk to various people in society. Elders are always spoken to with respect, you speak formally when speaking with people you do not know or to heads of clans and there informal speech for friends, family, or coworkers. Specifically there are various “modes” of speech: “Adult-to-Adult,“ “Comrade,” “Pilot-to-Pilot,” “Instruction,” “Nonkin,” “Addressing a Delm Not One’s Own,” “Addressing a Guest of the House,” “Addressing One Not of His Clan,” and others that I don’t remember. These were all very interesting ways of explaining the hierarchy of the society without being overly descriptive. The use of the various speech patterns told the characters in the story how they interacted with the world and showed attitudes.
I thought this type of description to be one interesting example of “showing” in the guise of “telling.”
I really enjoyed the use of the quotes at the beginning of each chapter as well. These quotes were all very pertinent to the story content and also gave informative backstory and built-up the world building by either giving the reader a glimpse of relevant past events or explanations of people, equipment, or Liaden behavior. Each quote was short, but always applicable to the chapter being read. It reminded me strongly of the way Frank Herbert used his opening chapter quotes in Dune.
I also enjoyed the fact that you understand the story problem immediately. The opening quote talks about family obligation and marriage (on both sides). Then as chapter one continues Aelliana’s struggle is made clear: avoid getting married again and get away from abusive, condescending brother. And as chapter two continues Daav’s struggle is made clear: Daav struggles with his need and desire to produce an heir, but he envies his brother for finding love in a life-mate and disperse that he will not find his own life-mate. It’s nice to have the struggles and goals spelled out so obvious and yet entertaining at the same time.
The two main characters of the story came across the most vivid for me. Each of the secondary characters had their own special attributes and some stood out more than others.
I felt that Aelliana was an exceptionally authentic character. She is a prime example of a battered woman, but one who still maintains a sliver of hope for freedom. Her beaten down confidence and automatic physical reactions were spot on for someone who has experienced physical and emotional abuse. Even her coping mechanisms were authentic. These accurate depictions of someone who has experienced hardship enhanced Aelliana’s character and that sliver of confident, logical thought made her even more sympathetic.
Some people describe Aelliana’s character arc as “coming of age” but I disagree, it’s more about “coming into your own power.” I guess to most there isn’t much of a difference, but I think there’s a difference because a person can come into their own power at any age, whereas “coming of age” at any age over the age of 21 is not very compelling and a disheartening reflection on society. Aelliana came of age when she was 16 and married off to an abusive husband. She performed her duty as a member of the Caylon clan admirably. There’s a difference between being trapped in a dire situation and growing up.
In Scout’s Progress Aelliana Caylon realizes that she really has the skills that can help her escape her tormenting family life and also realizes that she has a support system outside her family that will help her achieve that freedom.
Daav is compelling romantic hero because he’s honorable, smart, observant, and knows who he is. Unfortunately with a character like that it doesn’t leave much room for personal growth. Though as smart and observant as he is, he’s not so in touch with his own emotion, much of the time he spends controlling himself because he’d much rather be off doing Scout’s business rather than dealing with the dreary day-to-day of being the head of Clan Korval. It also takes him a while to realize that he enjoys the company of Aelliana Caylon and that he in deed has fallen in love with her.
A Word Or Two About World Building
I found the intricacies of the world building quite delightful and the world building was also pertinent to the plot. The social structure, the clan laws, and etiquette were woven into the story quite well for how much information there is on the subject. The culture was shown through natural and applicable conversation, through the thoughts and opinions of the various characters, and also through narration. The narration was a little explanatory but honestly you can’t get around it sometimes. The nice thing is that the explicit explanations through narration was minimal. Every action of the characters were seeped in motivations derived from the culture of Liadens, Scouts, and Terrans.
It was rather surprising how minimal the descriptions of Liad itself was. Of course you had the various starships that went from place to place and you know that there are space ports and such, but when it came to homes and the city where this story takes place the descriptions were rather sparse. All in all Liad felt like another version of Earth, or at least I wasn’t allowed to imagine much other than that. It’s not a bad thing to have an Earth-like planet, but it would have been nice to get a greater feeling of setting. It’s interesting to think that the authors decided that emphasizing culture was much more important than the setting.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a romance reader. I do watch the occasional romance movie, but I’m one of those strange women who will choose an action/adventure movie over romance any day (which is a total perk in my husband’s opinion).
Anyway, so I wasn’t initially aware that this novel was intended to be a space romance. And you know what? It wasn’t a bad thing. What I enjoyed most about it is that the romance wasn’t forced. So many romances feel forced to me. You can tell that the author wants Person A to be with Person B and it just happens. But Scout’s Progress wasn’t like that; in fact, the romance wasn’t the main focus of the story. I think this helped the evolution of the romance and made it feel much more natural than a sudden “love at first sight.” It really wasn’t until the second half of the book that hints of romance between the two protagonists even began to spark. I liked the transition between friendship to more intimate feelings and there were some struggles that Aelliana has to overcome due to her previous experience with men to contend with.
If it isn’t obvious already, I highly recommend Scout’s Progress by Shannon Lee and Steve Miller. I’ll have more opinions about which Liaden Universe books are worth reading more than others, but I’m happy to say that this one is definitely worth reading, even if you decide not to continue on with any other of the Liaden books.
If you enjoy space opera with a bit of believable romance thrown into the mix then Scout’s Progress will certainly be up your alley.
Have you ever read Scout’s Progress? Have you ever read any of the other books within the Liaden Universe? I’d love any recommendations you may have on the subject. Or if I’ve managed to inspire you to pick up Scout’s Progress yourself I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below.