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Jaran by Kate Elliot

Cover by Jim Burns

Published by Daw Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

If Jane Austen and Mikhail Sholokhov could have collaborated on a science fiction novel, they might have produced this novel of romance in a culture at once alien and familiar.

The jaran are not precisely Cossacks, although their naming patterns are strangely reminiscent of Russian ones. They are nomads, skilled riders of horses, proud and free as the wind. But they are also matrilineal, counting their descent through aunts and nephews rather than fathers and sons. While the men are the military leaders, it is the women who own the tents in which the jaran shelter.

Into this society stumbles Tess Sorenson, sister of the only Terran military leader to challenge the supremacy of the Chapalii, the humanoid aliens who own an unknown number of stars in this sector of the Galaxy, and once ruled an even greater empire. Curiousity pricked by the mysterious behavior of a group of Chapalii on the ship that is supposed to take her to visit her brother, she ends up stranded upon the vast sea of grass.

There she is found by Ilya Bakhtiian, who hopes to unite the various tribes of jaran and change his world together. Suddenly she is tossed straight into this fascinating culture, with only her unusual gift for languages to help her. And all the time she becomes increasingly more aware that she is surrounded by schemers, wheels within wheels, and there are far too many people who would gain by seeing her dead.

Review posted December 15, 2008

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