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Local Custom    by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller Amazon.com order for
Local Custom
by Sharon Lee
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2002 (2002)
Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Er Thom yos'Galan is an important member of Clan Korval, one of the most powerful families of Liad. However, not even a master trader and pilot can flout Liaden law or custom; and when his mother and head of line demands that he finally make a contract alliance and provide the line with an heir and thus transmit his genes, he reluctantly steels himself to do so.

Er Thom has every intention of obeying eventually, after he lays to rest the secret that lies behind his rejection of every eligible alliance his mother has brought to him. Three years before, he had a liaison with an Earth woman. Well enough for a casual affair, his mother might have said, with a moue of distaste for his choice. Liad, with its intricate fabric of manners, custom, and balance, finds Earth and its inhabitants crude and unmannerly. Unfortunately, Anne Davis was not a casual affair. Bleakly, Er Thom decides to see Anne once more and address the balance: bid her good-bye and return to his duty to clan and custom with a clear conscience.

Anne too has a secret, one she kept even from Er Thom. To her joy, their liaison resulted in a son. She had wanted a child, and Shan is pure delight, despite the increasing burden of long work hours that do not provide well enough for the two of them. Anne is a scholar; and despite her busy schedule, she is finishing a study on the Liaden and Terran languages, linking the two cultures.

When Er Thom reappears, she is overjoyed, but is careful to maintain the fiction of being only his friend. She never wanted him to feel obligated, and she feels he owes her nothing. For Er Thom, however, the situation has now become more difficult. By Liaden custom, any child is a child of the clan, half breed or not; and he is bound to return with Shan to Liad. He knows Anne will fight fiercely to keep her son. He knows also that he is lying to himself: he cannot leave Anne and obediently accept a contract wife. Er Thom treads a delicate path between reassuring Anne that a visit to Liad is a casual thing while dealing with his formidable mother, who senses danger to her plans in Anne's existence. Unsettling too is the violence dogging Anne's trail.

Local Custom is a marvellous read, filled with vibrant characters, excitement, romance, and adventure. The clash between Liaden and Terran cultures is a powerful force operating against a happy ending (which comes anyway). It also makes for fascinating reading. The authors have created a rich and intricate culture that defines, shapes, and constantly affects its members. If you have not yet visited Lee and Miller's Liaden universe, I envy you the thrill of discovery.

Note: Although not the first to be published, Local Custom is the first in the series chronologically. Conflict of Honors, published in 1988, tells Shan's story.

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