book reviews by Althea

High Couch of Silistra – Janet Morris *****

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High Couch of Silistra
High Couch of Silistra by Janet E. Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A re-read.

I first read this book because my mom checked it out of the library for me. She knew I liked fantasy, and came home with a random selection of paperbacks… this was one of them. I was probably eleven or twelve? My mom was not a fan of ‘trashy’ books, and I read this with big eyes, hoping that she didn’t decide to peek inside… Nope, she never did, and I got all the sequels out of the library later, too. She had absolutely no idea what she’d provided me with.

My five-star rating is taking that early experience into consideration. Is this a great work of literature? No. But it was certainly something that made a lasting impression on me. Going back to read it again, decades later, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it.

I remembered the basic story: Estri, a beautiful woman of the planet Silistra, is the High Couch of Astria – one of the most powerful people on the planet, and also a high-paid prostitute. Due to their difficulty in having children, Silistra has developed an interesting economic system. Promiscuous sexuality is expected, and status and power is centered around the ‘wells’ – brothels run and controlled by women. However, this is no ‘feminist’ paradise – a woman becomes a man’s property if he manages to impregnate her. Childbearing is one of the most important social responsibilities on Silistra, symbolized by the twisted chain called the chald worn by all upstanding citizens – so it’s a desired outcome.

Born into the Well system, Estri has no idea who her father is, but knows that he was an offworlder. When her mother dies, she lays an obligation on her to find her father. The book follows Estri on this quest. And along the way, Estri has a lot of sex. Of various kinds. A lot of it thoroughly non-consensual. With a great many different people.

On re-reading, the sex wasn’t quite as graphically explicit as I’d remembered, but it was clear enough, and, really, just as racy as I’d thought it was. Some of the descriptions (especially of the outfits) were amusingly 1970’s-tinged. I still found it enormously entertaining. Just keep in mind that this is primarily a sex-fantasy and only secondarily a sci-fi-fantasy. However, it doesn’t allow the sex to get in the way of a good story either, or to ‘dumb it down.’ The mix works for me.

If you like ‘Barbarella’ – you’ll probably like this series.

Many thanks to Perseid Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read the newly released eBook. As always, by opinions are solely my own.

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