Lee, Sharon & Steve Miller. Dragon Ship.

NY: Baen Books, 2013.

I had originally thought, when I picked up Fledgling, that this new story arc in the “Liaden” universe would be a trilogy — but this is volume four and the cliff-hanger ending makes it clear it isn’t meant to be the last word in the adventures of young Pilot Theo Waitley. But that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to read all the other Liaden books to enjoy this sub-series — though it will add nuance and a deeper understanding if you have — but you definitely don’t want to start with the present book, either. Theo, a daughter of scholars from a university-centered world, was born to be a Pilot and in the first two books she managed to become exactly that. In fact, at the age of around twenty (one guesses), she already has her First Class jacket and has been working as a courier — which means flying her ship alone and without a backup pilot. But she’s getting the hang of things very nicely, even though everyone seems to be out to get her. She knows now that her father is Daav yos’Phelium, the ex-Delm of Korval, and that her half-brother, Val Con, constitutes half the present Delm. It’s a potentially powerful and lucrative connection but also a very dangerous one, since Clan Korval has been forced off Liad and has reestablished itself on Surebleak — though it has dealt its enemy, the Department of the Interior, a not-quite-fatal blow in the process. (Don’t ask, it’s much too complicated even to summarize.) But now Theo is ensconced as almost-Captain of the self-aware AI ship Bechimo, which is far more powerful a construct than anyone has yet realized. She undertakes an exploratory cruise to scope out a possible new trade loop for her uncle, Clan Korval’s Master Trader, but this time she’s taking along a co-pilot, acquired on the recommendation of her father, who turns out to be the retired head of the Juntavas (think organized crime) on Liad. And she has picked up the badly damaged person of Win Ton yos’Vala, her close friend and ex-lover, who first made her realize that flying a space ship for a living was what she really, really wanted to do.

And that’s just the beginning. As with the previous three books about Theo Waitley (though she also appeared here and there in Lee and Miller’s other books), the story is dense with detail and nuances of character on numerous levels. The authors have the knack of tossing off casual descriptions, without explanation, that set the reader firmly in another place and time. The result, while admittedly a bit choppy compared to the first three books, still contributes to their whole body of work in displaying some of the best-written space opera of the past two decades. Now if I only knew when that inevitable fifth volume could be expected. . . .

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