The first of the seven books set in the Liaden Universe tells a rich and sweeping story of warring families and star-crossed lovers in a fantastic, other-world galaxy.
"I was mesmerized, awed, and totally entertained. I am hooked by the Liaden world. Bravo!" (Mary Balogh)
"Fans of interstellar adventure will not be disappointed." (Robin Wayne Bailey)
Read an Excerpt
Each person shall provide his clan of origin with a child of his blood, who will be raised by the clan and belong to the clan, despite whatever may later occur to place the parent beyond the clan's authority. And this shall be Law for every person of every clan.
-From the Charter of the Council of Clans Made in the Sixth Year After Planetfall,
City of Solcintra, Liad
"No?" his mother echoed, light blue eyes opening wide.
Er Thom yos'Galan bowed hastily: Subordinate Person to Head of Line, seeking to recoup his error.
"Mother," he began, with all propriety, "I ask grace ..."
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "Let us return to 'no.' It has the charm of brevity."
Er Thom took a careful breath, keeping his face smooth, his breath even, his demeanor attentive. Everything that was proper in a son who had always been dutiful.
After a moment, his mother sighed, walked carefully past him and sat wearily in her special chair. She frowned up at him, eyes intent.
"Is it your desire, my son, to deny the clan your genes?"
"No," said Er Thom again, and bit his lip.
"Good. Good." Petrella, Thodelm yos'Galan, drummed her fingers lightly against the chair's wooden arm, and continued to gaze at him with that look of puzzled intensity.
"Yet," she said, "you have consistently refused every possible contract-alliance the head of your line has brought to your attention for the past three years. Permit me to wonder why."
Er Thom bowed slightly, granting permission to wonder, belatedly recognizing it as a response less conciliatory than it might be, given the gravity of circumstances. He glanced at his mother from beneath his lashes as he straightened, wondering if he would now receive tuition on manners.
But Petrella was entirely concentrated upon this other thing and allowed the small irony to pass uncriticized. "You are," she said, "captain of your own vessel, master trader, pilot-a well-established melant'i. You are of good lineage, your manner is for the greater part, pleasing, you have reached your majority and capably taken up the governing of the various businesses which passed to you upon your thirty-fifth name day. It is time and past time for you to provide the clan with your child."
"Yes," murmured Er Thom, because there was nothing else to say. She told him no more than the Law: Every person must provide the clan with a child to become his heir and to even-tually take his place within the clan. His mother sighed again, concern in her eyes. "It is not so great a thing, my child," she offered with unlooked-for gentleness.
"We have all done so."
When he remained speechless, she leaned forward, hand extended. "My son, I do not wish to burden you. Necessity exists, but necessity need not be oppressive. Is there one your heart has placed above others? Only tell me her name and her clan, negotiations will be initiated . . ." Slowly she sank back into the chair, hand falling to her knee. "Er Thom?"
"Mother," he murmured miserably, eyes swimming as he bowed. "I ask grace . . ."
Grace, after all, had not been forthcoming. He had scarcely expected it, with him tongue-tangled and kittenish as a halfling. His mother had no time to waste upon baseless sentiment, not with her illness so hard upon her. She had granted grace to one child already-and those genes lost to Clan Korval forever by reason of her leniency.
So there was to be no grace given Petrella's second child and the hope of Line yos'Galan. Er Thom wondered at himself, that he had dared even ask it.
Wondering still, he turned down the short hallway that led to his rooms and lay his hand against the lockplate. Late afternoon sun bathed the room beyond in thick yellow light, washing over the clutter of invoices and lading slips on his work table, the islands of computer screen, comm board and keypad. The message waiting light was a steady blue glow over the screen.
Er Thom sighed. That would be the file on his wife-to-be, transferred to him from his mother's station. Duty dictated that he open it at once and familiarize himself with the contents, that he might give formal acquiescence to his thodelm at Prime meal this evening.
He went quietly across the hand-loomed imported rug, thoughts carefully on the minutiae he would need to attend to, so he might stay on Liad for the duration of his marriage, as custom, if not Law, demanded. Another master trader would have to be found for Dutiful Passage, though Kayzin Ne'Zame, his first mate, would do very well as captain. The upcoming trip would require re-routing and certain of their regular customers notified personally . . . He pushed the window wide, letting the mild afternoon breeze into the room.
Behind him, papers rustled like a startled rookery. Er Thom leaned out the window, hands gripping the sill, eyes slightly narrowed as he looked across the valley at the towering Tree.
Jelaza Kazone was the name of the Tree-Jela's Fulfillment- and it marked the site of Korval's clanhouse, where Er Thom had spent his childhood, constant companion and willing shadow of his cousin and foster-brother, Daav yos'Phe-lium. Er Thom's eyes teared and the Tree broke into a hundred glittering shards of brown and green against a sky gone milky bright. The desire to speak to Daav, to bury his face in his brother's shoulder and cry out against the unfairness of the Law, was nearly overmastering.
Compelling as it was, the desire was hardly fitting of one who kept adult melant'i. Er Thom tightened his grip on the sill, feeling the metal track score his palms, and closed his eyes. He would not go to Daav with this, he told himself sternly. After all, the younger man was facing much the same necessity as Er Thom-and Daav lacked even a parent's guidance, his own mother having died untimely some five Standard Years before.
Eventually the compulsion passed, leaving him dry-mouthed and with sternness at least awakened, if not full sense of duty.
Grimly, he pushed away from the window, marched across the room and touched the message-waiting stud. The screen flickered and the lady's likeness appeared, his mother being no fool, to waste time fielding dry fact when fair face might easily carry the day.
And she was, Er Thom thought with detached coolness, very fair. Syntebra el'Kemin, Clan Nexon, was blessed with classic beauty: Slim brows arched over wide opal-blue eyes fringed with lashes long enough to sweep the luscious curve of her cheekbones. Her skin was smooth and flawlessly golden; her nose petite; her mouth red as clemetia buds. She looked at him coyly from the screen, dark hair pulled back and up, seductively displaying tiny, perfect ears.
Er Thom swallowed against a sudden cold surge of sick-ness and glanced away, toward the window and the Tree, tow-ering into twilight.
"It is-not possible," he whispered and ground his teeth, forcing his eyes back.
Beautiful, serene and utterly Liaden-even as he was utterly Liaden-Syntebra el'Kemin beckoned from the depths of the screen.
That the rest of her person would be as guilesome as her face, he knew. Knew. He should in all honor seek out his mother and kneel at her feet in gratitude. Nothing in the Law said that the lady must be comely. Indeed, Korval's own law required merely that a contract-spouse be a pilot, and of vigorous Line-all else as the wind might bring it.
Lower lip caught tight between his teeth, Er Thom stared into the lovely face of his proposed wife, trying to imagine the weight of her hair in his hands, the taste of her small, rosy-gold breasts.
The chair clattered back and he was moving, pilot-fast, through the adjoining kitchenette to his bedroom. Fingers shaking, he snatched open his jewel-box, spilling rubies, pearls and other dress-gems carelessly aside. His heart clenched for the instant he thought it gone-and then he found it, stuffed into a far corner, half-hidden by a platinum cloak pin.
A scrap of red silk no longer than his hand, that was all. That, and a length of tarnished, gold-colored ribbon, elaborately knotted into a fraying flower, through which the red silk had been lovingly threaded. "It is not possible," he whispered again, and lay his cheek against the tarnished flower, blinking back tears that might stain the silk. He swallowed.
"I will not wed."
Fine words, the part of him that was master trader and a'thodelm and heir to the delm jeered. And what of duty to the clan, not to mention the Law and, easing of one's mother's pain?
If there is one your heart has set above all others . . . his mother pleaded from memory and Er Thom's fingers clenched convulsively on the scrap of silk. She would never-he dared not-It was against everything: Code, cus-tom, clan-duty.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing thoughts. The clan required this thing of him, the clan's dutiful child, in balance for all the clan had thus far given him. It was just. The other-was some strange undutiful madness that should after so many years have passed off. That it remained in this unexpectedly virulent form told a tale of Er Thom yos'Galan's sad lack of discipline. He would put the madness aside once and forever, now. He would burn the silk and the tawdry ribbon, then he would read the file on Syntebra el'Kemin, bathe and dress himself for Prime meal. He would tell his parent-
Tears overflowed and he bowed his head, fingers tenderly bracketing the red and gold token.
Tell his parent what? That for three years, steadfast in his refusal of all prospective spouses he had likewise taken no lover nor even shared a night of bed-pleasure? That new faces and old alike failed to stir him? That his body seemed to exist at some distance from where he himself lived and went about the work that the clan required of him? That food tasted of cobwebs and wine of vinegar and duty alone forced him to eat sufficient to fuel his cold, distant body?
Tell his mother that, Er Thom thought wretchedly, and she would have him to the Healers, quick as a blink.
And the Healers would make him forget all that stood in the way of duty.
He considered forgetfulness-such a little bit of time, re-ally, to be erased from memory, and so very-long-ago.
The thought sickened him, nearly as much as the face of the woman his mother proposed to make his wife.
He blinked his eyes and straightened, slipping the rag of silk and the frazzled ribbon into his sleeve-pocket. Carefully, he put his jewelry back into the box and lowered the heavy carved lid.
In the office, he saved Syntebra el'Kemin's data to his pending file, and left a message for his mother, expressing regret that he would not be with her for Prime.
Then he quit the room, shrugging into the worn leather jacket that proclaimed him a pilot.
The papers on his worktable rustled irritably in the breeze from the open window and across the valley the first stars of evening glittered just above the Tree.
from Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Copyright © February 2002, Ace Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of my favorite science fiction romances. I have read it more times than I can count. Er Thom yos'Galan, Clan Korval, falls in love with linguistics scholar Anne Davis. But the fact that they are from two very different cultures causes a lot of misunderstanding and pain until they work through a way to their "happily ever after." I love the language, the melodrama, and the story.
This book is my least favorite of the Liaden universe. It's a lot better if l think of it as a romance with Liadens. I truly hate misunderstanding tropes, and this one is plain annoying - a Master Trader and a student of Liaden literature can miss each others' incomprehension quite so thoroughly? Ugh. But viewed as a romance, it's quite good. Very solid characters, fascinating situation(s), great conclusion. Anne's attitude toward having a child is very Delgadan - is that a common culture among scholars, or on scholar planets? And Er Thom's choice(s) of solutions are a great illustration of Liaden thought. I'm amused to watch as he starts to break the Liaden mold and flower into a Korval...
More a soap opera than a space opera, with a domineering mother working to prevent her son from marrying a Terran. Aptly fills in the origins of Shan with his unique hair and skill set.
I've just 'found' this author & her spouses' books. This is the 3rd one I've read of their Liaden Universe, and the very best of the 3 that I've read! I will definitely be reading more.
Oh, this is fabulous, wonderful, excellent--somebody get me a thesaurus, would you? Loved it. It says "science fiction" on the spine, and it is s.f, but it's also a damn good romance--better than a lot of books that say "romance" on the spine. No pulled punches, nothing easy for these characters, and the premise of a cross-cultural romance is done so incredibly well, as the characters have to become aware of the assumptions they make because of their cultures. Also, it's a little thing, but it made me smile that the heroine is 6 foot tall with brown skin, and the hero, well, it doesn't say how tall he is, but he is shorter, and his skin is gold, IIRC. I'm so tired of heroines who are described as being about 1/4 of the hero's size, and who are glow-in-the-dark pale, so this was just a little extra. Must go find more books by Lee & Miller.
I do love this series. Local Custom is the first in the series chronologically. It introduces us to the complex world of the Liadens, who are an extremely formal society, where insults are counted and avenged. Anne is Terran (human) and Er-Thom is Liaden and yet they love each other...Delicous space opera, always satisfying. Well written, even though a few of the phrases are repeated (Delm being a tiresome fellow, was written a time or two too often) but that is a minor quibble from someone who had to read the books 4 times before she noticed! I love all the books and each time I reread them, I find some new aspect to enjoy.
I enjoyed this book so much that I couldn't put it down. I am an Anne McCaffrey fan and if you like her work, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one. Understated Science Fiction and Romance that's not overdone. I liked it enough that when I had finished it I started it over again for a second read!