Look, you guys. If you've read any of Lee & Miller's previous Liaden Universe books, most likely you already know whether or not you want to read this one.* Me, I'm a confirmed fan of the series, and Dragon Ship is definitely a series book. Direct sequel to 2011's Ghost Ship, Dragon Ship continues the adventures of Theo Waitley, child of Clan Korval, and now First Pilot of the old, mysterious, self-willed and self-aware ship Bechimo.
*Let me go out on a limb here and bet on a yes. No? Oh, well. Tastes differ.
Theo has a ship to shake down and a trade route to prove while under contract to Clan Korval. But as the events of Ghost Ship showed, Korval's old enemies, the Department of the Interior, are not incapable of regrouping—and in addition to their vendetta against Korval, they want Bechimo. With her sometime lover Win Ton yo'Vala buried in a medical compartment in Bechimo's heart to recover from a nano-virus that no other technology has a hope of curing, and with an ex-underworld boss for a Second Pilot, Theo has a lot of learning to do and not that much time in which to do it.
Dragon Ship is a meandering sort of book, a loosely linked series of incidents connected by Theo's growth into a leader, Korval, and the threat posed by the Department of the Interior. The lack of especial focus and urgency may detract from the novel's high points for some readers, but speaking personally, I found Theo, her ship, and her crew a delight to spend time with. And pace and urgency picks up noticeably from the halfway mark, beginning with an incident at Codrescu Station, the space station above the planet Eylot, where Theo did her pilot training—and where she was identified as a nexus of violence. Theo is first on scene to respond to a crisis, and in doing her bit to help its resolution, acquires both honour and notoriety. And another crewmember, her old friend and former schoolmate Kara ven'Arith.** But Codrescu has raised Theo's profile—and Bechimo's—and the Department of the Interior has taken notice. To keep her ship and crew safe, Theo will need a good helping of Korval's famous luck.
Which she seems to have in full measure.
**Another lover. Bisexual protagonists, they are good things. I approve.
Theo's story is not the only strand to Dragon Ship. We don't lose touch with Kamele Waitley, Theo's mother, who's taken leave from her professorship to find her missing lover, Theo's father, whom she does not know is Daav yos'Phelium, part of Clan Korval. The Uncle, mysterious and ancient figure that he is, also makes an appearance, as do our old friends Val Con yos'Phelium and Miri Robertson.
Dragon Ship is a novel which gathers its strands together, and sets the stage for the next act of the play that is the Liaden universe. It feels very much a novel of transitions, as sometimes occur in the middle acts of series. Normally that can be relied upon to annoy me, but not here.
If you ask me to put my finger on what, exactly, it is that I enjoyed so much about Dragon Ship, I find it hard to express specifics. There's some peculiar alchemy about Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden novels, a gift of characterisation and mood and tone that makes reading each new installment feel like coming home. There's something to be said for a certain degree of comfortable familiarity alongside one's Cool Shit™ and sensawunda, in my opinion. Not always, but sometimes. And that's what we have here: a comfortably entertaining installment in a solidly engaging series.
In conclusion, Dragon Ship: Not a good place to enter the series, but if you enjoyed its predecessors, I'll lay good odds that you'll like this one, too.
Liz Bourke spent the month of August running around Greece telling lies to undergraduates. Now that she's home, she and her books have a lot of catching up to do...