Review: Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Format read: ebook purchased from Baen Books, audiobook purchased from Audible
Formats available: Mass Market paperback, Trade Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction Romance
Series: Liaden Universe #4
Length: 320 Pages
Publisher: Baen Books
Date Released: February 2001
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Master trader Er Thom knows the local custom of Liaden is to be matched with a proper bride, and provide his prominent clan Korval with an heir. Yet his heart is immersed in another universe, influenced by another culture, and lost to a woman not of his world. And to take a Terran wife such as scholar Anne Davis is to risk his honor and reputation. But when he discovers that their brief encounter years before has resulted in the birth of a child, even more is at stake than anyone imagined. Now, an interstellar scandal has erupted, a bitter war between two families–galaxies apart–has begun, and the only hope for Er Thom and Anne is a sacrifice neither is prepared to make…

I have been meaning to re-read the Liaden Universe books for a while now. I loved them when I initially read them (meaning I swallowed them whole) in 2005-2006, but haven’t kept up with the newer ones. That “so many books, so little time” problem rears its ugly little head yet again.

When I heard that Audible was releasing the entire series in audio, I decided that was my opportunity. I could listen to everything! “Foolish Terran!”as the Liadens might say.

Sometimes when we revisit a beloved book we remember fondly, the re-read makes us wonder what we saw in it the first time. Memory does not hold up on close re-inspection. This was absolutely not the case with Liaden.

I started with Local Custom, because that’s where I started the first time. There are multiple possible entry points for the Liaden Universe, but two of the traditional ones are Local Custom or Agent of Change. (Agent of Change was written first but Local Custom occurs first in the internal chronology with most of the same cast of characters.)

The story is every bit as marvelous the second time around as it was the first time. Possibly more so, as I understand the background without remembering every single detail of each individual book.

Local Custom is both space opera and romance. Er Thom yos’Galan knows his duty to his clan is to take a contract wife and provide his clan with an heir. Duty to the clan is everything to a Liaden. But his heart is still fixed on the Terran scholar Anne Davis, a woman he met while overseeing his clan’s far-ranging business as a Master Trader. He should have let the thought of her go long since, but he cannot. So he takes leave of all his obligations, and they are more than Anne Davis ever knew they were, to see her one last time, and say a final “Goodbye”. Only to discover that she has already given him his heir, not knowing that the Master Trader she loved is actually heir to the richest clan on Liaden. And that she and her son are now pawns in a deadly game.

Escape Rating A+: I wish I had more pluses to give. I started to listen to the Audible recording, and became so caught up in the story that I found myself hunting for excuses to do things that would let me listen longer. I wasn’t getting anything else done!

I gave up and bought the entire ebook bundle from Baen, and finished the book that way. I enjoyed the audio, but it was just taking too long. My only regret about the audio is that Audible wasn’t able to get the rights for the original audio recording by Michael Shanks. I would love to hear him read the story as Er Thom.

If you enjoy space opera, and have never read the Liaden Universe books, start now. If you like romance in your science fiction, start with Local Custom. If you prefer more adventure and intrigue in the mix, choose Agent of Change as your starting point. But start now.

(If you do read ebooks, Baen is very reasonable about ebook prices. Everything is either $5 or $6 and they have downloads for every format you can think of: Kindle, EPUB, RTF, HTML, Read Online! Baen also does not use DRM.)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

12 for 2012: My most anticipated books in 2012

It’s very difficult to figure out what books I’m looking forward to most in 2012. I mean when I started to look at lists, I realized that most of what I was anticipating were the next books in series, or new books from authors I already knew. But when I looked at the list of my best reads from this past year, most of them turned out to be authors who were new to me. It’s a puzzle, isn’t it?

This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the series books that I read. I certainly did. But it’s the discoveries that turned out to be the most memorable. Maybe that’s because they were such surprises.

Just the same, these are the books I am planning to stalk NetGalley for review copies. And if I can’t get a review copy? Well, then I’ll just have to buy a copy and review it anyway. There’s even a reading challenge about reading one book a month just for fun!

But the books I’m looking for in 2012 are…drumroll, please!

When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris will be the next book in her Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series. What Angels Fear is the first book, and St. Cyr is a detective of the amateur and aristocratic variety. He should be the hero of a Regency romance, and in other circumstances, he might have been. But his service in Wellington’s army has left him much too tormented for that. His personal life makes him a tragic hero; the demons that drive him make him an ideal detective, if only to keep him from becoming a criminal. March can’t come soon enough on this.

Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb. This is Eve Dallas’ 34th outing. I’ve read all of them. Usually in one sitting. I still can’t figure out how she does it, but Robb/Roberts does it really, really well. This book means there will be one warm night in February.

Restless in the Grave by Dana Stabenow. I think I will always have a fondness for Alaska stories. Heck, I still tell Alaska stories, and it’s been 6 years now since I left Anchorage. But living in Alaska is something that changed my perspective, probably forever. The situations Dana writes about in her novels are always a tiny bit familiar, even the ones set in the Bush. Because Alaska is possibly the world’s biggest small town, and there weren’t six degrees of separation, there were three at most. Even for cheechakos like us. Dana writes damn good mysteries, but I always read them for a taste of the place we almost called home.

Master and God by Lindsey Davis. I love Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series. The whole idea of a hard-boiled detective operating in Imperial Rome has always been utterly delicious. And Falco’s wife Helena Justina is made of awesome. Master and God is not a Falco book. It’s historical fiction set in the same time period. Davis wrote one other work of historical fiction set during the Falco period, The Course of Honor. I read it years ago and it was fantastic. If Master and God is half as good, it will be well worth reading. Come to think of it, I hope people re-discover The Course of Honor. It was incredibly good and I don’t think it got half the attention it deserved.

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green. This one has been teasing me every time I look at Amazon. The recommender can figure out I want to read this, so it sorta/kinda looks like it’s available, but it’s not. January 3, 2012. Come on already. For those fans of the Nightside, John Taylor is finally going to marry his long-suffering (in more ways than one) girlfriend, Suzie Shooter. He just has one last job to finish up before he meets her at the altar. But no job in the Nightside is ever easy, especially not for John Taylor.

Redshirts by John Scalzi. This sounds like it’s going to be really cool. And really, really funny. And yes, the redshirts in the title are those redshirts. Like in Star Trek. The ones that always get killed at the beginning of the mission. What happens if a bunch of them figure it out? And decide that they are not going to let it happen to them? This sounds like something only Scalzi could possibly do justice to. In June, we’ll all find out.

An Officer’s Duty by Jean Johnson is the next installment in her series, Theirs Not to Reason Why. I loved the first book, A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here), and I can’t wait to see where Johnson next leads her time-travelling heroine, Io, in her quest to save the human race from utter extinction. July 31 is way too far away for this one.

Copper Beach by Jayne Ann Krentz. I knew that someday the Krentz was going to link the Victorian era Arcane Society of her Amanda Quick novels to her contemporary Jones & Jones psychic investigations to her futuristic romances under her Jayne Castle pseudonym. I read them all, but the links make for an added twist that I love. In January Copper Beach starts a new subseries, Dark Legacy.

Crystal Gardens is the start of a second subseries, Ladies of Lantern Street, that Krentz is starting in April under her Amanda Quick name. That means it’s a Victorian era story, at least for the first book. All of the Arcane Society books, both contemporary and Victorian, have been excellent romantic suspense.

Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh is the 11th book in her Psy-Changelings series, and the first to be published in hardcover. Although her Archangel series hasn’t wowed me, the psy-changeling books have never failed to please. I only wish that the release date was earlier than May. And I wish the US version had a better cover. The UK cover is awesome. (UK on left, US on right.)

Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I want to go back to Liaden. I want to catch up on the books in between (there are several) that I haven’t read, and I want to finally find out how things are going. Liaden is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, space opera science fiction romance universes of all time. Dragon Ship is due Labor Day. I think I have enough time to get caught up. It will be so worth it.

This last book is an absolute flyer. It sounds really cool, but who knows.

The Yard by Alex Grecian. What if, after Scotland Yard failed to capture Jack the Ripper, they started a Murder Squad? 12 detectives specifically charged with investigating the thousands of murders in foggy, grimy, crime-filled London. How much luck would they have? When one of their own is murdered, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist is put on the track of the killer. I love historic mysteries, and this sounds very, very cool. In May, I’ll find out.


These are the books I’m looking forward to this year. I wonder how many will end up on my “best books of 2012” list.

What are your most anticipated books for 2012?

Romance with a touch of rocket fuel

Sometimes I like my romances with just that little bit of rocket fuel to flavor the plot. I’m referring to science fiction romance, or SFR. After all, if love makes the world go round, there’s nothing to say it can’t power a starship, too!

One of the best writers in the genre right now is Linnea Sinclair. She’s the first author I read who made me recognize that this was really a separate category, and not just an offshoot of romance or space opera. Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe series can be read as pure space opera, if you want. Sixth-Fleet Captain Chasidah Bergren is court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit. After being railroaded through Fleet justice, she is committed to a prison planet from which there is no escape. Except…after Chaz kills a guard in self-defense, a man she thought dead steps out of the shadows to take her out of prison, and into the rebellion against the Empire. Gabriel’s Ghost is the introduction to Dock Five, followed by Games of Command, Shades of Dark, Hope’s Folly and Rebels and Lovers. The Dock Five universe is a complex one, a world of political machinations, power, money, and evil on a galaxy wide scale. At the same time, love, honor and courage still motivate and compel humans to rise above themselves, to save their homes and their loved ones. Love still conquers all, even if it occasionally needs some help from engineering.

One of the longest running and most honored science fiction series had its origins as a science fiction romance. In 1986, Lois McMaster Bujold published the novel Shards of Honor. This is the first book in her multi-multi award winning Vorkosigan series, and it is absolutely science fiction romance. Cordelia Naismith, captain of a Beta Colony survey ship, meets Captain Lord Aral Vorkosigan when they are marooned together after a raid on a newly discovered planet. When they are “rescued” his crew mutinies and she assists him in defeating the mutineers. He proposes marriage. She is captured by Aral’s enemies, tortured, and then rescued again. Eventually, she is returned to her home, Beta Colony. There’s this one little problem. Aral Vorkosigan is known as the “Butcher of Komarr”, and her people believe that he tortured her, not his enemies. They think she’s been brainwashed. She finally runs away to his home planet Barrayar, to elope with Vorkosigan. If that’s not science fiction romance, then what is?

The Vorkosigan series is ongoing. The most recent book, Cryoburn, was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2011.

Last year, the Galaxy Express posted a list of the 100 best science fiction romances. I’ve read over a third of the list and I’m working my way through the rest. Linnea Sinclair and Lois McMaster Bujold are definitely there. But some are a surprise. I would never have thought of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War as SFR. I loved the book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who reads SF. But it’s more like one of Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles written for adults and updated 50 years. On the other hand, there is a love story involved, but it is understated and very low-key, especially in the first book. Read it and see.

Howsomever, if you really want to get hooked on something, find your way into the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It’s an addiction.  Either start with Local Custom or Agent of Change.  Liaden is set in a future some unspecified number of centuries, or more likely millennia from now, after a space diaspora from some original planet, that may or may not be Terra, and a Terra which may or may not be Earth. Liaden is a universe of mercantile empires more than space armadas, but wars can be fought with weapons other than guns. So, Liaden is mercantile space opera. It is also about family, and family obligations, and duty and honor. And yes, each book does have a central love story. But mostly, they’re just plain good. The end of Crystal Dragon, I knew what was coming, and it still gave me the sniffles. What happened at the end was necessary, but it hurt.

But it was a good kind of hurt. The kind that makes you want to dive back in and read some more.