Balance of Trade is the third book (chronologically) in the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and the last in the "Books of Before" sequence. It is outside the mainline story of the Agent of Change sequence, but has important background to improve enjoyment of later books. This book can easily be read standalone, and doesn't depend on the other two books in the Books of Before sequence.
In Balance of Trade, we follow the early career of Jethri Gobelyn, a young Terran trader in the early days of Terran and Liaden interaction. Jethri becomes Apprentice to Master Trader Norn van'Deen, Clan Ixin. What follows is a classic Trader tale, or a classic Coming of Age tale, or a classic Mix of Cultures tale. Or maybe all three. Whatever, it's a rousing good story and a pleasure to read!
The reading is done by Kevin T. Collins and is as superb as his reading of the other two books in this sequence. Each character has a distinctive voice, but the distinction is subtle and doesn't interfere with the narrative. The Liaden Books of Before are my first encounter with Mr. Collins' narration, but I certainly hope not my last.
Mouse and Dragon is an immediate sequel to the events in Scout's Progress, and continues the story of Aelliana Caylon and Daav yos'Phelium. It is, in some ways, a bit easier to read than Scout's Progress, though we're still very much aware of the abuse that has occurred. If you haven't read Scout's Progress, you can still enjoy Mouse and Dragon, but they really are a pair and I recommend reading them that way.
In Mouse and Dragon, we have the ongoing growth of the relationship of Aelliana and Daav, and their eventual lifemating. More than that would be a spoiler, but we get a glimpse into the very beginning of what will be the Fledgeling (Theo Waitley) sequence.
The reader is Bernadette Dunne, and she does a superb job. Thank you, Ms. Dunne, for giving some of my favourite characters a voice.
Scout's Progress tells the first half of the story of Aelliana Caylon and Daav yos'Phelium, but is more about Aelliana than Daav. It is _not_ an easy story. Aelliana is abused, both physically and emotionally, by her na'delm. The abuse occurs both prior to the story and during it. That being said, it is still very much a romance. And an excellent read.
Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant Scholar of Mathematics, the reviser of a critical set of tables used by pilots to survive jump. And, unrecognized until this book, a pilot herself of great skill. Scout's Progress tells the story of her awakening and loosening of the scars and constraints that her abuse has created. And of the developing relationship with Daav as her co-pilot.
This book is fairly immediately after the time of Local Custom, but can be read as a stand-alone volume. The reader is Bernadette Dunne, who does her usual outstanding job. It is always a pleasure to listen to a book she reads, and I'm glad she's the narrator for this Regency sequence.
Think of a classic Georgette Heyer Regency, add in a big dose of language and cultural misunderstanding, a dash of real danger, and a healthy dollop of good characterization, and you have Local Custom. A wonderful Space Regency, if you will. Set fairly early in the of Clan Korval, Local Custom tells the story of Er Thom yos'Galan, Master Trader and thodelm of Korval, and Anne Davis, Linguistics Scholar and Terran.
This book can be read without having read any of the other books in the Liaden Universe, and is thus one possible entry point. It's a delightful story that I did not want to stop reading, and had me driving the long way around more than once. The reading is by Bernadette Dunne, and that's all you really need to know. Ms. Dunne is a superb reader and it's a pleasure to have her for the reading of the three Space Regencies in the Liaden Universe.
Crystal Dragon continues the story (begun in Crystal Soldier) of Cantra yos'Phelium (the Dragon) and M. Jela (the Soldier), and of the great migration that creates the Liaden Universe. If you haven't yet read Crystal Soldier, stop now and read it first.
In Crystal Dragon, Cantra must transform herself to go deep under cover and save the mathematical equations of Scholar Liad dea'Syl. With these equations, and the luck, some may survive and escape the decrystallization of the universe by the sheriekas. That she succeeds, and that it leads to the founding of Clan Korval, is at no time certain while reading the book.
This is the second book in the Books of Before sequence on Audible. These three books are very much a prequel to the mainline Liaden Universe books in the Agent of Change sequence. The narrating of the Before books by Kevin T. Collins is superb. Each character has a distinctive voice, but the distinction is subtle and doesn't interfere with the narrative. The Liaden Books of Before are my first encounter with Mr. Collins' narration, but I certainly hope not my last.
Crystal Soldier is the chronologically first book in the Liaden Universe series from Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It was, however, written several years after the first published volume (Agent of Change) and is thus on Audible as part of the "Books of Before" sequence.
Crystal Soldier tells the story of M. Jela and Cantra yos'Phelium, as well as the original Tree of Korval's Tree and Dragon. This is very much a prequel to the later events of Clan Korval, and leads naturally to the next book, Crystal Dragon and the migration to Liad to escape the total destruction of the universe.
If you're new to the Liaden Universe, you have a choice of how best to read the books. Personally, I prefer strict chronological order, but a valid argument can be made for published order as well, since that is how others have discovered this fascinating universe. If you're inclined that way, then start with the Agent of Change sequence first, and loop back to the earlier books when you're ready.
The narrator for this three book set of Before books is Kevin T. Collins, and he does an excellent job. Each character has a distinctive voice, but the distinction is subtle and doesn't interfere with the narrative. This was my first book with Mr. Collins as narrator, but I'll be searching out more. Well done.
This is the final book in the Vatta's War quintet, and I can honestly say I'm glad that there are no more. The reader is simply awful. Stilted, with no sense of dramatic flow and truly terrible voices for some characters. The final book should have been the most exciting and satisfying as Ky finally gets the fleet she needs and the battles happen. But instead, we get additional characters who add little to the story and yet we STILL have to hear their angst and stupidity play out. This entire series could have been quite good as a trilogy. But it simply hasn't stood the test of time. It's YA space opera, but it's not _good_ YA space opera.
This is the fourth volume in the five volume Vatta's War series, and if you've gotten this far, you already know that the narrator is frankly awful, and there's way too much angst and navel gazing in the story, and too little actual war. This book _is_ better on the level of action, with the ISC / Raef story line actually making some sense. Though, again, too much (stupid) discourse and too little actual action for this genre. Don't get me wrong, I actually like to follow the inner thoughts of our protagonists in a story, but these people can't seem to every do the right thing for the right reasons, and seem to be way more than normally obtuse about the people they interact with.
Overall, if you've decided to stick it out and finish the series, I can understand. I'm doing it. But only because I've already bought the 5 books.
The Vatta's War quintet continues with volume three in the series. The reader, Cynthia Holloway is never a pleasure to listen to, and the reading is less than inspired. But the real problem is that this space opera just hasn't stood the test of time as well as one might have hoped. It's not _bad_, just not as good as it could be. WAY too much angst and anguish and just plain stupidity, and too little decisiveness from the main characters. The one good story arc, that of Grace and Mac Roberts, is too peripheral to carry the weakness of Stella and even Ky. Overall, I'll finish the books, since I bought them. But I can't imagine re-reading them, ever.
Kylara Vatta's life as a trader ship captain gets more than a little "interesting" as her family is destroyed, and her own life and ship are attacked by powerful enemies. The overall plot moves forward at a quick pace as the violence against the Vattas escalates and intensifies. The interaction between Ky and Stella is not particularly healthy, and is, IMO, one of the weaker elements of this series.
The reader, Cynthia Holloway, is still by far not my favourite reader, but she does seem better in this and later books in the series. I've given the performance a 3 out of 5. It adds nothing to the series, but isn't an annoying distraction either. Overall, this book is a 4 out of 5, and with a better reader would be a 5 out of 5.
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