RogerBW's Blog

Silence in Solitude, Melissa Scott 11 January 2024

1986 SF, second of its trilogy. Silence Leigh, already a hyperspace pilot, has now had some training as a magus, and is ready to have another try at travelling to lost Earth.

The first book was a picaresque: look at this fascinating and hazardous universe, and its glorious system of space travel using celesial harmonies. This one is more of a caper; after the attempt to reach Earth fails to overcome the defences, all that's left is one hint at an older approach to FTL travel which might be able to bypass them. But the details are lost, so this needs a collector of ancient artifacts. Which would be fine, but he wants a small job done first…

…so from about a quarter of the way through, the main business of the book is a rescue from a harem. The satrap who has the vital item wants to overthrow the Hegemon, but his daughter is being held as an honoured hostage in the Women's Palace… and it'll take a magus to sneak in and get her out… and because the Hegemony is profoundly sexist, all his agents (and all other magi) are men.

My feeling on this re-read was that if the first book established the rules this second book is having adventures within the rules. Which is fine, and it's good and well-written and it's great to see this kind of magical problem-solving (in particular how Silence modifies a library access card to allow her to touch any book rather than just the ones she's authorised to look at)… but in order to maintain dramatic tension, we need to know what's possible, and there's inevitably less sense of wonder than in the first book where the characters knew what could be done but the reader didn't.

The action is good; the relationships between Silence and various new and returning characters are fine. (Particular as she realises that, since her own experience is mostly of being the only woman who gets things done rather than sitting around being decorative (and playing deadly social power games), she has been participating in the same assumption of female incompetence as the men.) But we get less of Silence's relationship with her husbands (initially a marriage of convenience that's slid into genuine love), and less piloting, which seems a shame.

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Previous in series: Five-Twelfths of Heaven | Series: The Roads of Heaven

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