Jaran is the best of both worlds. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover
With the opening book of her Jaran series, Kate Elliott shows her well-developed storytelling sensibilities in both science fiction and fantasy.

Jaran chronicles the experiences of human Tess Soerenson, a reluctant heir to her brother's dukedom on a far planet under an alien empire. As the book opens, Tess has just completed her thesis at an Earth university. The names may be familiar, but Tess lives in a future Earth that is under the domination of the alien Chapalii, an ancient and technologically superior race. Tess decides to leave earth to return to the planet where her brother rules (he was given a dukedom under curious Chapalii reasoning—he led a rebellion against them, and they decided to placate him rather than punish him) and where she grew up. Tess, however, does not end up at her intended destination. She finds herself ejected from the Chapalii starship on a deserted plain of her brothers planet, along with a delegation from the Chapalii ship.

But her brother is not on this planet, and the Chapalii shouldn't be either. This is an interdicted planet, which means that its civilizations are at an earlier stage of development. Knowledge of advanced technology, space travel and interplanetary civilization must be kept from interfering in their more rudimentary culture. Tess is soon discovered by a tribe of horsemen, reminiscent of Central Asian nomadic steppe peoples. The Chapalii have also discovered this tribe and, masquerading as pilgrims, they commission to the tribe to take them on a tour of holy places. Tess joins the riders in order to follow the Chapalii on their pilgrimage, hoping to uncover their underhanded motives. But she also finds herself embraced by the tribe, and enmeshed in its conflicts, from cutthroat matchmaking to intertribal warfare.

Kate Elliott shines both as a science fiction writer and as a cultural fantasist in this book. The details of technology and space travel are not dwelled upon, rather described with efficiency. The future world concepts and systems are intriguing, but they are not overly complex and will not disagree with the average fantasy fan. By the same token, she is faithful to a variety of science fiction traditions, sowing the seeds for interplanetary rebellion in later books and offering creative commentary on the relevant issue of cultural imperialism. The indigenous tribal culture she creates has all the trappings of sword fights and spiritualism we would expect, but also unique customs and appealing, unpredictable characters.

Science fiction fans will enjoy Elliott's inventive spin on tradition, while fantasy fans will find her horse-faring tribes a welcome change from the typical medieval milieu.

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.