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The Novels of the Jaran
Kate Elliott
DAW Books

Volume 1 Jaran
Volume 2 An Earthly Crown (The Sword of Heaven, Book 1)
Volume 3 His Conquering Sword (The Sword of Heaven, Book 2)
Volume 4 The Law of Becoming

Jaran
An Earthly Crown
His Conquering Sword
The Law of Becoming
Kate Elliott
Kate Elliott is at work on an epic fantasy series, Crown of Stars. The first two volumes, King's Dragon and Prince of Dogs, are out now and the other is forthcoming, with a second trilogy to follow. She also plans a prequel to The Golden Key, called The Iron Key. Earlier, she published four novels under her real name, Alis A. Rasmussen.

Kate Elliott Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: King's Dragon, Volume One of Crown of Stars
SF Site Review: The Golden Key

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

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Kate Elliott's The Novels of the Jaran series is a pretty daunting one, 4 volumes and over 2,250 pages of an epic saga sweeping across the galaxy, involving war, romance, intrigue and treachery. The best news is that the series is complete. I have to confess that I passed these books by when they were first published. I was in no mood to read yet another long series of books, waiting for years for the story to come to a conclusion. Now having finished them, I regret that I didn't read them sooner. The Jaran series is truly an epic masterpiece, conveying a story of the dreams of conquest and rebellion by a pair of charismatic men and the woman who is linked to them both.

Here is some series background: an alien race, the Chapalii, in their relentless expansion, have absorbed the League, a consortium of planets including Earth, into their empire. Though the Chapalii are neither cruel nor harsh as masters, the human race still rebelled, led by Charles Soerensen. The rebellion was crushed, but Charles was not executed as a traitor; instead he was ennobled. Given a solar system and fabulous wealth, he is the only human granted any real status in the Chapalii's intricate hierarchy. His first rebellion crushed, Charles decides to bide his time, gathering information and waiting for the next opportunity to lead his people to freedom.

At the beginning of Jaran, Tess Soerensen, Charles' sister, is escaping to the planet Rhui, trying to mend a broken heart. Rhui is an interdicted, low-technology human world, that is strictly off-limits to unauthorized personnel. Using her rank as her brother's heir, Tess demands passage on a Chapalii merchant ship, intending to sneak onto the shuttle going down to Rhui. She manages to get aboard the shuttle unseen but soon discovers things are amiss. The shuttle doesn't land at the disguised spaceport near the capital city as she expects, but instead lands far away, and disgorges its cargo of horses and Chapalii in native dress. Though not exactly human in appearance, the Chapalii can pass for tall humans. Knowing that the Chapalii are not supposed to be on Rhui, Tess decides to follow them. Unfortunately, she cannot keep up on foot and is soon left cold and hungry in the wilderness. After several days, she is rescued by a man on horseback who brings her to his people, the jaran -- a nomadic people who live on the plains of Rhui. The jaran befriend Tess and adopt her as one of their own. She soon discovers that the man who rescued her, Ilya Bakhtiian, is determined to unite the jaran tribes and conquer the khaja, which is essentially everyone who is not jaran.

The remainder of the first book covers four main points. It describes how Tess learns and adapts to jaran life, a perfect way to introduce the reader to the culture and customs of the jaran. It follows Tess as she attempts to learn what the Chapalii are doing on Rhui. Tess feels an obligation to her brother, and though she has resisted all attempts to follow in her brother's footsteps, she doesn't feel that she can let the Chapalii go unobserved. Part of the book follows Ilya as he begins his plans to unite the remainder of the jaran tribes and build his army. His jahar (warriors) agree to guide and accompany the Chapalii Tess is following in return for horses. No ordinary horses, these horses were brought from Earth and genetically modified, making them far superior to the native horses of Rhui. Ilya intends to breed these horses and mount his army on them. The fourth part of the plot involves a growing relationship between Ilya and Tess. In addition to writing great fantasy, Kate Elliott has a flair for romance novels as well.

The remainder of the novels continue the saga. We find out what the Chapalii are seeking on Rhui. We follow Ilya and Tess as they unite the jaran tribes and conquer city after city, attempting to create a unified empire. At the same time, we watch as Charles gathers information and prepares to mount a second rebellion against the Chapalii. And as the story progresses, we learn more about the enigmatic Chapalii and the jaran, who are perhaps more similar than anyone suspects.

Tess, the main character of the series, is determined to make her own choices and decide her own fate, despite the fact that she is pulled in two different directions. One direction by the man that she loves and another by her brother. Tess wants what is best for the jaran but she must also remember that the fate of other worlds is at stake as well. Sadly, she has few people she can share all her troubles with, for most of the jaran are not aware that Erthe (Earth) lies not across the sea, but in the heavens. She is forced to keep the secret of her origin even from Ilya, her husband.

Ilya Bakhtiian, a restless jaran youth, traveled to the capital city of Jeds to study at the university. This intelligent, charismatic man returned with a dream -- to unite his people and to sweep across the land conquering all in their path. His greatest strength is also his greatest flaw -- capable of remolding his path so that it avoids or conceals the obstacles which might destroy him, he is incapable of reshaping his life to a new path. While capable of dealing with Rhui and its people, he will never be able to deal with the fact that there exist other people and planets outside of Rhui.

Charles Soerensen should have been developed more as a character throughout the series. I expected that Charles' role would become more important as the books progressed, that his rebellion against the Chapalii would mirror Ilya's war of conquest against the khaja. This wasn't the case. The story of the maneuvering and intrigue of Charles' dealings with the Chapalii was never more than a subplot. There was a great deal of potential here to reveal as much about the culture and customs of the Chapalii as that of the jaran. At the end of the series, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the Chapalii.

I particularly enjoyed Elliott's very careful depiction of the nomadic jaran. By immersing a total stranger like Tess into jaran culture, Elliott naturally introduces us to every bit of the culture, piece by piece. With a strange mix of customs, the society is matriarchal, for the most part. Women are treated with respect and their wishes are generally obeyed. These statements are qualified because the men are the warriors and have the final say when it comes to war and conflict. And despite the respect shown to women, they have no say when it comes to marriage. When a jaran man chooses to marry a woman, he marks her with his saber, leaving a diagonal scar on her face from cheekbone to jawline. Unless the woman physically prevents the suitor from marking her, she will become his wife. The jaran have a different view of marriage, however. Husbands and wives are both allowed, even encouraged, to take other lovers. The father of a child is the one married to the woman who bears the child, not the man who is the biological father, a point that becomes very important in the story.

There is an unusual mix of other customs and taboos that arise as well. Homosexuality is punishable by exile, though heterosexuality, as explained above, is openly encouraged. Birds are sacred -- the penalty for killing one is death. The jaran are a pre-literate culture and as such, their bards, "Singers," are considered to be very special. Archery is for women and hunting; real men use only sabers in combat. This is certainly a change from the conquering nomads of our own history.

A significant portion of the series covers Charles and his dealings with Chapalii, but frankly, I found the story most appealing when it was dealing with what was happening with Rhui. While the intrigue involved in trying to outsmart the Chapalii was interesting, the Chapalii just were not portrayed as cruel, evil dictators. As one of Tess's friends says,

"'No. I don't hate them. They've proven neither cruel nor harsh as our masters.'

'Their grip is soft,' said Tess in an undertone.

Sojourner gave her a sharp glance. 'But it chafes,' she replied, quieter still."

Not exactly the menace that inspires one to revolt.

As much as I enjoyed the series, I have to admit I found the last book a bit disappointing. While the first three books appeared to be leading up to a carefully crafted rebellion in the fourth, it was not to be. The story takes a few strange twists which I really didn't care for. I think I understand the author's motivation behind them, but they certainly didn't fit the image I had developed in my mind for the end of the series. That said, I still encourage people to read this series. Kate Elliott is a talented writer with an eye for detail and character development. Pick up Jaran and give it a try. I'm sure you won't be disappointed and soon you'll start scouring bookstores looking for the rest of the series.

Copyright © 1998 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.


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