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Horses, Aunts, and Space Battles: Elizabeth Moon’s Heris Serrano: Omnibus One

The Heris Serrano books—Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, and Winning Colours, now collected as Heris Serrano: Omnibus One in the US, and The Serrano Legacy in the UK—have been around for almost two decades. I read them first a little over ten years ago, and they’re forever impressed in my mind as Foxhunting! In! Spaaaaaaaace!

Which is not the most accurate synopsis of all time, but I think it captures the flavour of things pretty well.

Jo Walton has referred to these three books, which form a standalone trilogy in Moon’s larger Familias Regnant universe, as “Aunts in Space“, which is another way to capture the flavour. Hunting Party opens with Heris Serrano, ex-Regular Space Service commander, starting her new career as the captain of Lady Cecelia de Marktos’s luxury yacht Sweet Delight. Lady Cecelia is a wealthy eccentric with a passion for horses, currently inconvenienced by providing transport for a spoiled nephew. Herris Serrano is military to the bone, and deeply uncomfortable with being cast forth into civilian life. She’s determined to sharpen up Lady Cecelia’s crew, and she’ll take no nonsense from Lady Cecelia’s nephew and his odious friend. Hazards and horse-riding intervene, spoiled young nephews and their friends do some growing up, and a confrontation with a man-hunting admiral (and a spoiled prince) opens a political can of worms whose ramifications influence the course of the next two books.

Sporting Chance, the second book, has poisonings, politics, doppelgangers, smugglers, and enemy action. Lady Cecelia is poisoned into a stroke, and has to be daringly rescued by her young relatives: Heris Serrano must steal Sweet Delight and take Prince Gerel—a prince indistinguishable from his cloned doubles, a state of affairs which causes Heris no little headache—in search of medical treatment for his sudden, inexplicable stupidity. And Heris’ trust in her crew is shaken by betrayal masquerading as incompetence.

Winning Colours is a book of crises (and aunts) in which the consequences of Sporting Chance play out in political confusion and space battles. Lady Cecelia has decided to use her new lease of life to breed horses, always her passion, travelling aboard the Sweet Delight—which is now owned as well as captained by the inimitable Heris Serrano. Meanwhile, the monarchy in Familias Regnant space has fallen, their neighbours the Benignity is looking to invade, the formerly spoiled nephew Ronnie and his friends play Intrepid Investigators, and three older ladies (the aunts, including an Aunt Admiral) must resolve a political and medical crisis involving the drugs necessary for the process of rejuvenation—where the wealthy old can become young again, indefinitely.

As a collected volume, the Heris Serrano omnibus is the story of Heris’ vindication, and eventual restoration to the Regular Space Service; and the story of Lady Cecelia’s growth from slightly out-of-touch eccentric to someone who, while still eccentric, is very definitely in touch with what’s important. This omnibus is entertainingly full of bizarre family dynamics, people with strange and archaic hobbies, a touch of intrigue, and plenty of space and shipboard action. I can never quite get the hang of the cultural dynamics of the Familias Regnant, because we spend so much time in the company of the very upper crust, or the somewhat insulated echelons of the military, but the mannered, slightly Victorian air of plutocracy with noblesse obligé is fascinating to read.

And! It has older women everywhere. I hesitate to point out how uncommon this is in science fiction (and fantasy, too), but it’s downright refreshing to read about older women also being admirals, and tycoons of industry, and people with interesting hobbies, as well as having inconvenient nephews and annoying relatives. Moon does family very well indeed, a talent that makes her work stand out among space opera with military influences.

Horse-riding, politics, interesting characters, and things that go BOOM! What more could you want?

Liz Bourke is quite fond of horses and explosions. Although not exploding horses: that’s just cruel.


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