Helen Wright’s A Matter of Oaths is one of those books that came out in the late eighties without any fuss, sat in bookshops for a little while and then vanished. I’ve been buying up copies whenever I see them second-hand to give to friends. I’m delighted to see that the author is making it available for free download on her website, so I can enjoy the opportunity to share it more widely.
This is a space opera. There are two opposing empires, each ruled by an immortal emperor. There’s a Guild of Webbers that controls all FTL shipping through both empires. If a webber switches empires, they have to make a new oath, or if they won’t, be brainwiped, keeping their skills but losing their personal memories. A spaceship needs a new webber, and the best candidate is a brainwiped one with a mysterious past. The mysterious past catches up with him—wouldn’t you just know it?—and things get more interesting than anyone expected. The characters are multi-ethnic and multi-coloured and compelling, there is (without any fuss about it) a gay romance, the universe is lots of fun and everything moves fast. The crew feels like a group of people who work together, and their concern and friendship for Rafe, the new webber, is much more realistic than the way people often react to someone who is special. It isn’t flawless, it’s a first novel, but it’s the kind of really enjoyable read you can just sink right into.
And it’s online for free, so go ahead and enjoy it.