(a novel of the Liaden Universe, the front cover says)
Product Description (lifted from Amazon.com):
“In the third novel of the Liaden Universe, Priscilla Delacroix is betrayed and abandoned by her shipmates. But confronting the crew will be far easier-and safer-than confronting the demons of her past.”
Upon reading this standalone novel from the Liaden Universe, however, the reader discovers that the much harder tasks falls to taking the characters and their situations seriously. I picked Conflict of Honors off the shelf up knowing full well it was a space opera. Hell, that was its selling point – the promise of angst, space, hilarious misunderstandings, and big dosage of futuristic escapism. And I was prepared to swallow mediocre prose to get it.
Instead, the authors created a monolith of flat characters, uninteresting conversations, and absurd conflicts bested only by the even more unlikely resolutions. Please note, the following will include a liberal helping of [mild] spoilers. Reader discretion advised.
As the tale opens, the impressively beautiful, valiant and intelligent Priscilla is banished from her world. Precious– I mean, Priscilla tries to carve a life for herself, and finds herself betrayed, attacked, and finally, on a ship with a captain who becomes entangled in her problems only to — yes, you’ve guessed it — end up solving them. What else could a reticent but kind Master Trader/Master Pilot/masterfully intelligent/Heir Apparent-to-one-of-the-most-powerful-trading-clans-in-the-universe do when confronted by feminine distress?
Not only does the piece have mediocre prose and uninteresting, unappealing characters, but the book also takes a kind of check-mark approach to plot.
- Character saves other char’s life by shoving him out of danger’s way? Check.
- Character mistrusts her feelings, as her eyes fill with tears? Check.
- Other characters discuss at length how to save/heal/befriend her? Check.
- Other characters discuss her past traumas at length in hushed tones? Check.
- Character unleashes mighty-power to save lives? Check.
- Is almost executed for doing so because she is too guilt-ridden to point out why she did it? Check.
- Character is traumatized and unresponsive and needs true love to rescue her with his soulful eyes? Check.
- Character tries to leave because she doesn’t think she’s wanted? Check.
Any of these elements alone (or together, written well) could have brought the book together and the reader into Priscilla’s struggles. The problem was, they didn’t. By the end of the novel, I was skimming to see how many of the standard tropes the authors would hit before even they could stomach no more. The motivation of the “Enemy” was incoherent and inadequately explained as a drug-induced madness and the conclusion (aka the boss battle. The gaming metaphor works, trust me) was reached without the main character doing anything more than getting angry (and unleashing her pent up fury in a whoosh of powerful energy).
I am rating it one and a half canaries: while there was nothing to recommend it, neither did it go out of its way to offend or disgust me. Plus, I finished it, so that must say something–if only about my resolve in the face of a brightening skyline.
A note to all writers. This is what happens when you name your main character Priscilla.