Old School Wednesdays is a regular Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Title: A Matter of Oaths
Author: Helen S. Wright
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Caravel
Publication date: First published 1988 (new editions, 2017)
Paperback: 330 pages
When Commander Rallya of the patrol ship Bhattya hires Rafe as their new Web officer, she knows she is taking a risk. As an oath breaker, Rafe has suffered the ultimate punishment – identity wipe – but luckily for him, there’s no one else around qualified for the job. Shunned by his previous shipmates, Rafe is ready to keep his head down and do his job, but his competence quickly earns him respect, admiration, and, in one particular case, love.
It’s difficult to maintain the glow of acceptance however, when his past is chasing him across the galaxy in the shape of an assassin, intent on dealing once and for all with Rafe, whatever the cost.
Originally published in 1988, A Matter of Oaths is a space opera with heart, intergalactic intrigue and epic space battle.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): ebook
This is another entry in a series of Old School Wednesdays posts, brought to you by the amazing folks who supported us on Kickstarter. As one reward level, backers were given the opportunity to pick an Old School title for one of us to read and review online.
I had not heard of A Matter of Oaths before this and I am so glad to have found it because I found it to be enjoyable, fun and super not-problematic for a book written 3 decades ago. A Matter of Oaths was originally published in 1988 and it has been re-released now. It’s a LGBT space opera featuring and older woman of colour and two queer men as the main characters, as well as an unreliable narrative, lots of intergalactic intrigue and political shenanigans. It reads very contemporary and it feels rather fresh for a book that is 30 years old – and it fits with recent releases and read-alikes such as the books by Becky Chambers (who wrote an introduction to this new edition), Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee and John Scalzi. In a way, this book reminded me that it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes what we think is new and shiny, has roots in the works of older women authors.
The world building takes some time to get used as it’s not masticated or info dumped: there are space ships and there are the people who are responsible for running each ship. They are webbers, based on a type of tech that connects people to each other and to the ships.
Enter the ship Bhattya, who needs a new Web Officer (someone who can even, potentially, become its new Commander in due time). Commander Rallya is on the lookout and when she comes across the (seemingly) young yet incredibly talented webber Rafe, she knows he is the right person for the job. Just one tiny little thing: Rafe is an oath breaker, someone who has suffered an identity swipe as punishment for said oath breaking. People tend not to trust oath breakers even if they don’t know exactly what oath they have broken or to which emperor – there are two, two different sides of the empire which just adds more stakes to the worldbulding.
Rafe also doesn’t know what he has done or why but he knows that 1) he loves webbing too much to give up on it and 2) his life is in danger, probably because of something he did in the past. All of a sudden remembering – even if forbidden – is of the utmost importance. It could mean saving not only Rafe’s life but also the Bhattya and its crew.
It’s the danger to Rafe’s life that drives a lot of the plot here along with the intrigue and high stakes of life onboard the Bhattya. On the one hand, we have the macro worldbuilding and the fight between factions, the two emperors and the multiple types of Oaths people swear. On the other hand, the author never loses sight of the personal and great attention is given to the microcosms of Rafe’s personal struggles, his falling in love with Joshin (one of the officers of the Bhattya and also a viewpoint narrator) and their adorable romance as well as Rallya’s badassery and own internal struggles with her failing webbing.
There is a whole lot here that is commendable and interesting and if I have one main criticism is that the ending felt too rushed especially considering how slow moving the plot had been up to that point.
This was super great and it continues to baffle to me that when we talk about old school SciFi and make lists of Great Works to Read, we keep seeing the same books by mediocre white dudes and their mediocre books instead of gems like this one.
Rating: 8 – Excellent