Sharon Lee & Steve Miller,
Scout's Progress
(Ace, 2002)

previously published
as Pilot's Choice
(Meisha Merlin, 2001)

The world of Liad is governed by a strict code of honor and behavior. Each family, no matter how high or low, is governed solely by the acknowledged head of the family, or delm, who is seconded by his or her heir, or nadelm. The ruler of Liad is the Delm of Korval, descended from the Captain of the ship that brought the Liadens to their homeworld.

Aelliana Caylon has spent her life being terrorized by her brother, the nadelm of House Mizel. She is a brilliant mathematician with good prospects, but according to the Code, she is subject to her cruel brother's whims. Married early and badly at her brother's insistence, she has lived in fear of being married again. One day, in a fit of spite, her brother reminds her that though her mother, the delm, has exempted her from marriage, he will someday take their mother's place as delm, at which point, she will once more be subject to whatever arrangements he deems fit for her.

Knowing her brother as she does, Aelliana feels that her only resort is to leave Liad. But how? And then, while wandering the port alone, she runs into some of her mathematics students and, at their daring, joins a game of chance and wins her freedom from Liad -- a ship -- as long as she can become a qualified pilot in under a year.

And so Aelliana sets out to claim her freedom, to become a pilot and leave Liad. In so doing, she meets a charming pilot called Daav, who agrees to teach her and helps her through the various tests she must pass to win her pilot's license.

Scout's Progess is science-fiction adventure. But the science definitely takes a back seat to the characters. Their stories are so compelling that it is difficult to set the book down, but eventually one has to come back to Earth. The adventure has just a hint of romance, with a damsel in distress and a dashing Prince Charming to rescue her. There is also a dash of humor, especially in the dialogue of the pilot Clonak.

The story is told in quite lyrical and sometimes unexpected language, something that not only emphasizes that this is a different world and culture, but that also enhances the reading experience. I found the turn of phrase quite lovely and enjoyable.

Scout's Progress is the second book of the Liaden Universe series, with which I am not particularly familiar. But I intend to become so!

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 30 November 2002

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