So where to start? As one would expect from Janet Morris there is a lot more to this story than a simple science fiction tale. Firstly the protagonist is a woman, and a strong one at that. Estri is not your screaming maiden waiting to be rescued. She’s a feisty woman, who knows her worth, knows her skills, and her failings and above all she knows herself.
Estri is more than a woman of pleasure – for on her world this is no shameful profession. As Well Keepress she is much sought after, and highly skilled, but she is also teacher, student, lover, friend, fighter, diplomat, businesswoman, a slave, mistress and so much more.
Silistra is a world of contrasts – its people long-lived, its terrain in places inhospitable and its morals unusual. Fertility is everything in a world where the people rarely breed successfully. Duty, or Chaldra is everything – be that duty to oneself, one’s people, or the world in general.. A world misunderstood by the others, but attractive for many reasons, not least its Well Women must stand for its uniqueness and protect its beliefs. In many ways Estri is Silistra – wise, with hidden dangers, intriguing, alluring, complex and misunderstood.
Duty, power, sex, the complexities of relationships between men and women, and how they can change, fate, courage, loyalty, betrayal, personal journeys, fear, and adventure fill every chapter. The sex is not overdone, considering the context and although there is violence that too speaks of the power play which is core.
The world building, as with Morris’s other novels, is rich, complex and totally believable. For the duration of the tale Silistra is real. The characters, too, are a mix of good and bad, but no way clear cut. These are living, breathing characters with all that entails.
This is not a book for those of a faint heart or who cannot see deep within a tale for what lies therein. It’s a book to make the reader think. It’s a book of great stature, and storytelling of the finest sort. Of course it’s also a book for those who seek a heady adventure beyond the stars.
This is a book I couldn’t put down. 5 stars.