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Posted September 6, 2009
The latest Liaden novel, geared for a YA audience and Liaden Fans
For years, the team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been turning out character-oriented science fiction in what is termed the "Liaden Universe", a future space opera universe where alien species and several factions of humanity jostle against each other. In such a universe, there is limitless room for characters and stories, and the writing team has been filling in that universe eagerly.
Fledgling is the latest effort in this vein and a bit different than some of their previous work. Fledgling takes the story of a character who shows up in I, Dare, Theo Waitley, and shows us her origins. While Delgado is not precisely an isolated world, its isolated from the culture of much of the rest of the galaxy by its restrictive, safety oriented society and local customs.
The reader is plunged into this world, and some parts of this work better than others. Some changes in language and diction felt too artificial to me, as if Miller and Lee wanted to use neologisms for common words, ideas and phrases in modern English. While the intent was to make this an alien world, some of them felt like they were using a new word for the sake of a new world.
Also, the character arcs of Theo's estranged parents does not work that well, either. While the revelation about the change in their relationship is written very well, what works less are other aspects of their personality. There are some flashbacks to their first meeting years ago, for example, but it doesn't feel as fully written as the main plot of the novel, and it seems to just end. I think I understand why they included it, but I think it might have been excised or truncated further without harming the novel. Also, in their individual arcs in the present time, Kamele and Kiladi don't come across quite as well as Theo does. They are not poorly drawn, just not as well developed.
What works better, especially once she leaves her world, is the character arc of Theo Waitley herself. The title, Fledgling, is telling. Theo starts off as a clumsy girl, and learns to spread her wings, in a more than metaphorical fashion. Especially once she leaves the stifling, stuffy world of Delgado, Theo's personality, skills and talents come into full flower. The latter portions of the novel that focus on her are the strongest parts of the entire book and make the previous portions of the novel worthwhile to read through to get to. This is the story that any and all Liaden fans will relish and enjoy.
I think the slowness and difficulties early in the novel are a bit offputting, but by the end of the novel, I was reasonably satisfied with the novel. Liaden fans will want to read this story to see Theo's backstory, of course. YA readers looking for a SF novel could do well here, too. I don't think that an adult reader of science fiction who wants an entry point into the Liaden novels are best served with this book, however.
Overall I recommend the book wholeheartedly to Liaden fans (who will not need my blessing to do so), and to a lesser degree to YA SF readers.
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