Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Alliance of Equals (e-ARC)

Padi yos’Galan is young, and eager to learn her craft as a trader. She accompanies her father the Master Trader as his apprentice on a trade voyage. Along the way, she must confront her terrible secret that she has not told anyone of, and either grow or die.

Admiral Bunter is a full person, born out of necessity to defend a space station from pirates and hastily (and sloppily) given life as the AI that controls seven near-derelict ships. His first action after being born had been to kill a ship. He must learn to be something else than a mere ship-killer, and either grow or die.

Korval’s Master Trader Shan yos’Galan, who is also Father to Padi, guides the tradeship Dutiful Passage, captained by his lifemate, on a voyage to seek new ports and new markets for Korval’s trade. Unfortunately, the recent unpleasantness had branded the Clan, as well as its tradeships, as a criminal enterprise on many planets. Somehow he must convince people of the injustice of that accusation, and find people willing to trade with Korval honorably. This is by no means a safe trip.

Alliance of Equals is the 19th novel in the Liaden Universe series, and the second novel in the latest five-book cycle in the series (begun by Dragon in Exile). Despite this, it likely will work fairly well for a new reader of the series.

It seems to me, based on an enthusiastic first read that lost me one night’s worth of sleep, that Alliance of Equals is the strongest novel in the series in quite a while. Despite being a part of an ongoing larger story arc, the book itself has a very strong individual focus and a clear one-book arc, satisfying the reader quite well. Absent from this book appears to be Lee and Miller’s trademark last-minute cliffhanger, even though there clearly is more to come in the future books, which I eagerly await.

In addition to a strong story arc, Alliance of Equals expands on our understanding of the universe these books inhabit. By accident, I happened to be re-listening to the Crystal Dragon audiobook when the e-ARC was announced yesterday, and I am happy (and also terrified) to see lots of parallels to the Crystal duology in the times and events portrayed here. I am afraid that a certain thing will happen in one of the forthcoming books, that would up the stakes once more tremendously. I hope I am wrong, but then again, excitement is why one reads this sort of story in the first place.

Alliance of Equals will be regularly released in July 2016. For those who wish to pay premium rates for early access (such as myself), Baen Books now offers an electronic Advance Reader Copy for sale. An e-ARC is based on an unproofed manuscript and may differ from the final released book.

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