Once upon a time Theo's father had told her, half-teasingly, if she were ever in serious trouble, to take that trouble to the Delm of Korval. And as noted in FLEDGLING and SALTATION, young Theo Waitley - officially registered on her peaceful world of Delgado as a "nexus of violence" - had picked up a gaggle of serious troubles. And as we saw in SALTATION she did go to the Delm of Korval on the planet Liad. GHOST SHIP picks up the tale moments after. Except that GHOST SHIP isn't just about Theo Waitley.
When in the mood, no one sprawls a story quite like Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. GHOST SHIP is the direct sequel to I DARE and SALTATION and I'll tell you straight: this novel ain't for newbies unless you're one of them blokes what likes to come in halfway thru the movie and try to figure things out. Even more than PLAN B and I DARE, GHOST SHIP features central characters from past Liaden stories. The authors also sprinkle in a heck of a lot of cameos and references to past events. This helps to anchor the Liaden universe, to establish time and place and continuity. But first time visitors will wish Lee & Miller had accomodated them more. Fair warning.
GHOST STORY tracks the interweaving story arcs of the Korval Clan, namely Theo Waitley, her father Daav yos'Phelium, and Theo's half-brother Val Con and his lifemate Miri. And, to a lesser extent, we also catch up with what Pat Rin's been up to. The big bad of this series continues to be the planet Liad's insidious Department of the Interior which is still and forever bent on exterminating the Korval line. In fact, I urge all new readers to first pick up AGENT OF CHANGE or THE AGENT GAMBIT omnibus (which contains AGENT OF CHANGE and its absolutely addictive sequel CARPE DIEM, the book that made me a diehard fan of all things Liaden). AGENT OF CHANGE and CARPE DIEM introduced Miri and Val Con and chronicled their fight against the interplanetary Juntavas crime syndicate and the increasingly suppresive Department of the Interior.
As a character mentions, "Luck rides roughly around Clan Korval." Pilot First Class Theo Waitley, her pilot's jacket several sizes too big, arrives on Liad just in time to witness the Delm of Korval - the title given to the head(s) of Korval, who currently are Val Con and, by extension, Miri - in the midst of relocating clan and home and tree, Jelaza Kazone. But Theo's got her own plate of headaches. Being a "nexus of violence" means that Theo is constantly getting into scrapes. It's tough being a new and solo pilot, and it's even tougher when an ancient sentient space ship is haunting you. And then, worse news, Theo gets eyeballed by the Department of the Interior, with the Department's vindictive Commander of Agents sitting up straight upon learning of the ghost ship's existence (and all the invaluable Old Tech the ship harbors). And then just wait 'til the revelation drops regarding Theo's being also half-Korval.
Meanwhile, Clan Korval has survived Liad's booting them off the planet. On the backwater world of Surebleak, Jelaza Kazone has happily set roots and Val Con and Miri and kin are settling in fine. Not that it's all gravy. That charming gambler Pat Rin yos'Phelium had made his mark in his guise as "Boss Conrad" (check out I DARE). But Surebleak lives up to its ominous name; it's still very much dangerous and untamed territory ran by ambitious Bosses. Clan Korval has to tread softly.
GHOST SHIP refuses to be a hugger mugger, the authors keeping the plot threads clear and easy to follow, the huge cast of characters distinct from each other (that is, if you've been reading past Liaden novels). I love the space opera elements. But, even more, I love the character interactions. As usual, Lee and Miller give us many glimpses of Liaden custom and behavior, of which complexity and formality rival that found in Cherryh's Foreigner series. There's a huge sense of satisfaction in watching Theo Waitley safely navigate thru Liad's social landmines, and gratification derived from Clan Korval's easy acceptance of her.
Let's face it, there isn't a space opera so glorious as one inhabited by telepaths and self-aware ships and sentient trees and interplanetary hoodlums and a xenophobic secret organization, and it's even got wushu camouflaged as dance. GHOST SHIP is what? It's an absorbing comedy of manners. At times it's an espionage thriller. It's science-fiction with the heart beat of the Wild West. It's a fun dose of mysticism. And romance. And a teapot from an alternate universe. And it's even got a Clutch Turtle. Do you realize how awesome Clutch Turtles are?! Oh, you're gonna lose sleep over this one, friend. And, going by how many issues were still left unresolved by the end of this thing, expect to hear more from the Liaden Universe.