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In August I read Jaran, because friends, I have a burning desire to jam the entirety of Kate Elliott's backlist in my eyes. I can't yet move forward into the warm embrace of her new world building, because the current publishing landscape is a barren, Kate-less land until 2015, at which point it's going to be like finding at least five or six oases in a row (okay, or three, she's only publishing three things. Only in my wildest dreams would five Kate Elliott books drop in the same year).

The point is that she's publishing a lot in 2015 so this is the perfect time to engage in some backlist adventures and catch up, if, like me, you were cruelly blocked from knowing she existed before her Spiritwalker trilogy caught your attention.

I loved that trilogy (you could read it if you haven't! here is the review that may convince you!) even though I don't consider fantasy my home genre like I do science fiction. In reality I should have read Jaran the first time I saw it mentioned on The Book Smugglers.

I loved it, friends.

If you like far future science fiction pie with a delicious fantasy cherry topping, complicated cultures coming together like tectonic plates, a story where a young woman gets to be exceptional but also learn about herself and be stronger than ever before, have sex with hot dudes who respect her without being judged for it or slut shamed, a complicated intergalactic mystery with multiple types of cultures, and lots of political machinations, then Jaran is the book for you.

So basically, yes, Ana and Jodie: I'M BACK, slipping Jaran onto your reading lists while you're looking the other direction.

Our heroine is Tess Soerensen, sister and heir to Charles Soerensen, a former rebellion leader against an alien race — the Chapalii — who conquered humanity's baby space empire. For REASONS the Chapalii decided to make him an honored duke out of respect that he was resourceful or something, and as such, Tess is pulled along into his political machinations as his only heir. Tess is super smart, an excellent linguist, fully trained in the language of the aliens and thus a powerful political tool for Charles. The pressure of this objectification is not lost on her, and follows and informs her actions through the whole book.

She's also unsure of who she is. In attempting to dodge her mistakes and future responsibilities, she ends up running away to the capital of a far away planet under the brother's rule. On the way, she discovers shenanigans, attempts to learn more information for her brother to use, and ends up stranded in the wilds on the very planet she meant to hide on with no way to let her brother, or anyone else, know that she's okay.

Now, I could tell from the blurb of the book that Tess is going to be pulled into an alien culture — the jaran — and that she was going to totally bone the leader by the end of the book. This can't even be a spoiler: it is Foretold in the Blurb by someone who has read a ton of romance. This is science fiction romance like I like my science fiction romance, i.e. obvious but not in your face about it. How Will They Fuck? practically becomes part of the mystery of the book itself, but it never overtakes the other things happening, which is GREAT. Tess's sexuality is a part of her journey amid other things happening.

My favorite part of this book is the fact that Tess is super likable and (mostly) everyone in the jaran loves her and wants her to be happy (except Ilya, because sometimes he's a dick). It saves time to deal with more interesting political machinations, like the fact that Tess has to lie to everyone about who she really is and where she comes from. The personal drama here foments out of the movement of the plot itself and the actions Tess takes as it arrives rather than "I just don't like you for Reasons". Probably the most intense dislike (if we ignore the one character who doesn't seem to like herself that much) is between Tess and the Chapalii, and they're so (intentionally?) bland due to the nature of their social structures that it's like watching some very angry British people trying to be polite while inside their heads they're fighting in the middle of a street and tumbling into a fountain.

This is very much a story about Tess growing up, understanding responsibility, and how to balance fulfilling obligations with personal happiness. Tess learns more about her brother Charles via Ilya than she would have ever learned by spending time with Charles himself.

SURPRISE: I finished this book liking Charles way more than Ilya, for Spoiler Reasons which I will cover in a moment.

There's an overarching mystery about the the Chapalii which feels a little distant to the culture of the jaran, whose own presence the planet reveals itself to be not as pretty of a picture as Tess sees, because she's inhabiting it from the inside. The mystery of the Chapalii motivations that leads Tess to be stranded unfolds as Tess travels and learns more about them. This is the intergalactic mystery portion of the show, and it's not really resolved at the end of the book, other than giving us the barest hints about how serious things are for both Tess and Charles. The fate of the world can rest on a USB drive. THIS IS TOTALLY A LEGIT TROPE. I love it.

The only parts I struggled with were, inevitably, the gender dynamics of the jaran. It was refreshing to see a culture in which the women were obviously powerful. But it was also really weird, as my brain balked against the division of labor, gendered types of weapons, and the idea that men could just slash you with a knife and you were married?

SURPRISE MARRIAGE AND ALSO MILD ASSAULT?

I'm obviously missing something here and explaining it badly, and there was obviously some other political stuff that went on behind the scenes to prevent some problematic or politically dubious matches. Sometimes it worked and sometimes everyone was unhappy and miserable, which is a nice touch of realism. BUT ULTIMATELY I just could never get over it, because it felt, in the end, just as problematically heteronormative and binary as any other system that's gender-specific? News at 11, I'm terrible at understanding gender dynamics.

AND THEN.

Spoilers

Ilya: let's go see this place we've traveled months to look at!
Tess: Yeah! *admires beauty*
Ilya: Heck yeah, admire the shit out of it. Isn't this great?
Tess: Yeah, this is super cool.
Ilya: This avenue's pretty awesome, right? I knew you'd like it.
Tess: Totally rad.
Ilya: Well, I'm glad you think so, since walking down it with me means we're married! SURPRISE!

*Sudden Priestess Appears*

Priestess: Come child, you have to undergo a test that will probably kill you.
Tess: ….
Ilya: Um.
Tess: …
Priestess: Ilya, you fucked up.
Tess: …
Ilya: I fucked up I FUCKED UP I FUCKED UP

LATER

Tess: *pwns test*
Priestess: He's outside, let's make him sweat.
Tess: Oh, let's.


Stumbling over the plot points and gender dynamics did not, however, keep me from sobbing like a baby through the end of this book and immediately wanting the rest. I really, really enjoyed it and have discovered that there's an entire bundle of the Jaran books available so now I am in book heaven.

If you loved this book please come tell me how much you loved it, because I am definitely having one of those moments where I cover up my face and hearts leak out of my eyes from between my fingers. ♥

animated gif of a dog saying i just met you and i love you


Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers, Val's Random Comments, The Galaxy Express

Date: 2014-09-04 03:38 pm (UTC)
oracne: turtle (Default)
From: [personal profile] oracne
This was my very first Kate Elliott book back in the day and it remains my favorite of hers.

You forgot to mention HORSES. It has HORSES.

Date: 2014-09-05 12:21 pm (UTC)
oracne: turtle (Default)
From: [personal profile] oracne
It's true the focus isn't on the horses. I want the movie, so there can be lots of beautiful ones.

Date: 2014-09-04 05:06 pm (UTC)
kingrat: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kingrat
Great success!

Date: 2014-09-04 09:50 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Well this sounds great even though I am probably not going to like Ilya (I'm already against him because of the alley thing and I haven't even met him - how does this keep happening?).

Date: 2014-09-05 05:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susanhatedliterature.net
I haven't read any Kate Elliott in waaaayyy too long, I don't think I've read any of her books since I started my blog *goes to check*
Actually I read a book of hers in 2006 but I didn't reread the previous books in the series and didn't love it because I couldn't remember what had gone on. So I guess it is more than time to add her to Mount TBR, I always meant to pick up the Jaran books but that was when I was limited to visiting the library for books and they never had what I was looking for.

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