This was a re-read.
I recommended it to my book club, and then couldn’t make the meeting due to a family commitment, so I felt a little apprehensive about that. What if I didn’t like it as much on a second reading? How would I justify myself?
Well, I should have trusted myself. I LOVE this book. If anyone else doesn’t – well, then they don’t, and we will have to disagree.
All I have to say is, I don’t think Ursula LeGuin has ever steered me wrong. (She blurbed this book, and while many authors’ praise is for sale, I don’t believe that LeGuin’s is.)
Primarily, this book is a mystery. But it’s a mystery set in a vibrant, multi-species, semi-near future setting (500 years from now?) slightly reminiscent of ST:TNG. The main character is Skerow, a legal judge on a regular circuit. She’s working on a rather backwater planet when her partner is murdered, and, simultaneously, she discovers a mysterious mermaid-woman enslaved in a brothel.
She embarks on a mission to bring justice to the enslaved and solve the mystery of the murder – but staying alive herself may turn out to be more difficult than anticipated.
The different races portrayed in the story are unique, believable, and finely drawn. The politics are seedy, cutthroat, and fun. There’s human trafficking, gladiatorial combat, prostitution – and of course, everything comes down to money in the end.
The book really shines in the characterization, though. No one in this story is a stereotype… and even when they’re a 7-foot-tall reptile, they’re completely well-rounded, “human” beings with various interests and believable thought processes.
But what I truly love about it it how it presents a realistic world, where horrible things happen, and people are as nasty to each other as they can possibly be – without actually having a bleak world view at all. The existence of awful things does not negate the beauty to be found in life, or the possibility of making a change for the better.
Plus, it’s just a great story.