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Master of None    by N. Lee Wood order for
Master of None
by N. Lee Wood
Order:  USA  Can
Aspect, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Publish, perish, or ...? A hungry young botany professor smuggles himself onto the closed world of Vanar, in search of fame in the form of research into its native flora. When his lover betrays him, Nathan Crewe is marooned on a world where men have no rights and are at the mercy of women. Vanar is enormously rich, autonomous and powerful, due to its monopoly on Pilots unique in their ability to guide spaceships through 'interstellar Worms, the lifeline linking over three hundred systems with Vanar at their core like a tiny spider in a giant web.'

Nathan doesn't speak the language and continually breaks the rules of a complex culture that he has great difficulty in understanding - he's 'treated like some dangerous animal set loose by accident.' After months of painful interrogation to determine if he's a saboteur, a horrifying time in a 'whitewomb', and a lonely period in a charity shelter, Nate inadvertently gets engaged and subsequently is adopted into the High Family ruled by the ancient Yaenida Nga'esha. It seems that his ineptness amuses the canny old matriarch, who reminds him of 'a hawk: contemptuous, powerful, the hint of steel hidden under velvet feathers.'

Nathan's adjustment to the Vanar way of life (and his powerless role in it) is slow and as prone to error as his mastery of the local language. He is treated roughly by both sexes, with only occasional kindness. Nate finds a quiet sanctuary within the vast Nga'esha estate, and there comes to know and love a Pilot, Pratima, who turns out to be as much of an outsider as he is. But why does Pratima's brother Raemik fear her? That's not the only secret that Nate uncovers on Vanar, and a new disclosure almost destroys him. But he moves on from it to find a purpose in his new life, and eventually to make a big difference in his adopted society.

This is the story of a man who moves through fear, violence and betrayal in an alien culture, to accept his fate, work within its constraints to improve the lives of many, for whom he's grown to care - and eventually to change a world. Master of None is a must read for SF fans, and I also highly recommend the author's brilliant, post-acopalyptic Faraday's Orphans.

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