While on vacation, I felt a need for some trashy reading, so along with some Gaslight Chronicles and Turner series, I read some Liaden. When I got home, I read some more Liaden. Gosh there is a lot of Liaden.
In this outing, we meet Anne Davis who had a fling with Er Thom and, without telling him, stopped using contraception and had his child, Shan yos'Galan. This sort of does not make sense. In the Liaden universe, it seems to be the case that there is fertility control that is fully internal and available to both men and women and requires conscious effort to turn off. It doesn't make much sense that Er Thom would have been shooting other than blanks, whatever Anne decided to do -- unless Er Thom _also_ decided to turn his off. Tree involvement at that distance seems unlikely. I chalk this up to the fact that _Local Custom_ was written and published early on, before the universe was more completely developed.
Er Thom is supposed to produce a child with a contract-wife, and he doesn't want to. He wants Anne. He goes to University, where she is (another planet), and discovers the kid. Obvs, Er Thom sucks at Liaden-style cyberstalking. His brother Daav has no trouble discovering the existence of the kid and the kid's name and assumes that is why Er Thom went to see Anne. But nope, Er Thom had a Focus and the kid is a surprise to him. I found this confusing. I feel like the presentation was intended to be a Secret Baby story but with Daav as this sort-of-omniscient Here's What's Going On person.
The next thing that happens is irritating: a comprehensive misunderstanding occurs between the Liadens and Anne about the implications of Shan being Seen by Delm Thorval. I find this unlikely. Anne teaches Liaden; Er Thom is a Master Trader. And yet they don't apparently know basic stuff about each other's culture's marriage and family raising customers. Seriously? Are you guys adults? On the other hand, young women wander the world and marry young men from Saudi and similar and are surprised at what happens next. And a FOAF married a woman who was sufficiently Missouri Synod to have attended Concordia University (the Portland, OR one) -- and then was surprised at how religious she was (and the kind of religious). So maybe this happens a lot, but I still don't have to respect it.
When Anne works out what has just happened, it calls into question all the rest of her interactions with the Liadens (reasonable), and that opens her and Shan up to an attack and the resolution of that helps everything get explained. The mechanics of the plot are really creaky through this bit (seriously, at what point is someone going to realize that CompLing getting all blowed up might have been related to Anne's work?). Once everyone is back down on planet, they still have to deal with gratuitously stupid and evil (bigotry edition, complicated by a strong desire to make everyone else as miserable as she is) Petrella, Er Thom's mum.
Er Thom's mum (and, for that matter, Birin Mizel in other novels, not to mention Kareen) does not actually make any sense to me. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are consciously writing a Regency Novel (with elves!) in space, but they really went way over the top with Petrella. I don't think there is anyone in Georgette Heyer as gratuitously horrible as Petrella, in a way that runs counter to Petrella's own interests.
You might think from reading this review that I really didn't like this book. That would be wrong. This book has amazing narrative momentum. I really, really did want to know what was going to happen next, and given that is Prime Directive in novels, Lee and Miller for the win. There are enormous weaknesses in characterization: smart people doing stupid things that are inadequately motivated. There are weaknesses in worldbuilding (one more room in Liad or elsewhere piled everywhere with booktapes and I think I really will scream, and of course the above mentioned contraceptive confusion). Loose ends abound (I'm several more books in at this point, and I still don't see any indication that anyone has followed up on the CompLing explosion and honestly that really makes me nuts). And there are well respected Healers all over the place that people are really resistant to making use of. But, you know, for Narrative Momentum, I will put up with a lot worse than any of this.