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Scout's Progress    by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller order for
Scout's Progress
by Sharon Lee
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant mathematician and scholar, well liked and respected by her students, mostly 'Scouts', members of an elite and prestigious group. Her students would be amazed and appalled by the reality of their teacher's personal life. In a society where custom has the force of unbreakable law, young women in Aelliana's position have no hope of escape except through marriage. On Liad, contract marriages are common; Aelliana has already been 'sold' once, to a brutal man chosen by her brother Ran Eld.

Aelliana's mother, who is head of the family, has promised no more contract marriages; but Ran Eld reminds her with sadistic pleasure that their mother will not live forever. Then Ran Eld will have the right to decide her fate. Desperate, Aelliana plans to do the unthinkable: run away, leave Liad, and hide amongst the Terrans who are ignorant of clan and custom. But to do so, she needs money. And so quiet, obedient, mouse-like Aelliana undertakes to deceive her brother and prepare for escape. For the first time she accepts invitations from her Scouts and is introduced to gambling, pitting her knowledge of mathematics against chance. And wonder of wonders, she wins a ship! With the help of the Scouts, she finds teachers in piloting and a place to hide her ship from her family.

One of her piloting teachers is an easy-going and subtly dangerous young man she knows only as Daav. Daav yos'Phelium is in fact head of Clan Korval, perhaps the most powerful of all the clans of Liad, and certainly the most unpredictable. For Daav, the Scouts are a welcome escape from the burdens of his position, and he likes his reticent student. Daav's attraction to Aelliana leads him to observe what is happening in her life and Scouts are keen observers indeed. It is well for Aelliana that Daav chooses to involve himself. Ran Eld owes money and is being hard-pressed by one of his creditors. He becomes suspicious of his sister's mysterious absences and plots to confiscate her ship. Vicious and unscrupulous, he comes very close to murdering her. However, Aelliana is tougher than she looks; and Daav is a formidable ally. His gallantry also wins him what he envies most in his brother Er Thom - the relationship between Er Thom and his lifemate Anne.

Lee and Miller's expert writing catches the reader in a spell-binding tale that captivates and entertains. It is impossible to remain unaffected by the joys and sorrows of their characters. Scout's Progress is a delightful read, but what makes it particularly noteworthy is the rich development of Liad and its culture. After a visit to the Liaden universe, via one of their well-conceived and written novels, the reader feels as if (s)he has been to a real place. It is also a pleasure to meet old friends, in Anne Davis and her lifemate Er Thom yos'Galan.

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