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Balance of Trade
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Meisha Merlin, 460 pages

Balance of Trade
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller were born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. They now live in Central Maine. Steve Miller is the founding curator of the University of Maryland's Kuhn Library Science Fiction Research Collection. In 1997, Sharon Lee was hired by SFWA as the organization's first full-time executive director.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Sharon Lee
ISFDB Bibliography: Steve Miller
SF Site Review: Balance of Trade
SF Site Review: The Tomorrow Log
SF Site Review: Pilot's Choice
SF Site Review: Partners In Necessity

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

The latest offering from Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, though set quite firmly in the Liaden setting, is actually a standalone, the first Liaden novel to date not to feature the influential and far-roving members of Clan Korval. Instead, we're introduced to Terran would-be trader Jethri Gobelyn, whose family owns a number of trading ships, including the Gobelyn's Market. His relationship with his family isn't as secure as it could be; ever since the death of his father, his mother and Captain of the Gobelyn's Market has become increasingly distant. When Jethri discovers he's been apprenticed to another ship, he resists the initial idea of leaving the only home he's ever known. However, an investment gone sour opens up new doors of opportunity, and before he fully understands the consequences, he's joined the crew of the Liaden ship Elthoria under the supervision of Master Trader Norn van'Deelin, who sees in Jethri a way to bridge the differences between Liadens and Terrans. Now Jethri is continually tested, circumstances dictating he learn a whole host of new customs as he interacts with a people who place an inordinate amount of importance upon honor, reputations, dignity, and propriety. Where one wrong move, or even an improper bow can affect the directions of entire clans, he can't afford a single misstep. But if he watches his step, he could make a fortune. If only he can overcome the prejudice many Liadens feel towards Terrans, and unravel the mystery left in the wake of his father's death years ago.

I love the Liaden books. While Balance of Trade isn't my favorite (that honor still goes to Scout's Progress), there's no denying that Jethri Gobelyn is a most likeable character, the sort you can't help but want to succeed. It could almost be argued that he's too perfect, given his natural ability to interact on a socially acceptable level with even the most narrow-minded of Liadens, but luckily, his flaws come out when he's forced to embrace radical change in his life. I also love the Liadens themselves; their concept of melant'i, a code of honor and conduct which dictates their standing in social, professional, and emotional interactions, remains one of my favorite aspects of the Liaden Universe.

Frankly, the only thing I find missing in Balance of Trade is the underlying (or more overt) romance which has characterized the other Liaden stories, something I consider to be one of Lee and Miller's strengths. I hope we'll get to see more of Jethri Gobelyn, as his story is far from over. Balance of Trade is a low-key space opera that relies heavily on characterization, multi-layered plotting, and social conflicts, rather than on violence and blasters. It's actually a perfect introduction to the Liaden Universe, and I recommend it to longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Copyright © 2004 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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