Sound Off in the Forum

All reviews and site design © by Thomas M. Wagner. SF logo by Charles Hurst. All rights reserved. Book cover artwork is copyrighted by its respective artist and/or publisher.


Book cover art by Luis Royo.
Review © 2002 by Thomas M. Wagner.
View Large Cover

Cary Osborne is a confident composer of space opera whose stories combine all of the boilerplate stuff you'd expect to see with such traditional ideas as duty and honor and some nifty martial arts. Deathweave, although shakily plotted, is an appealing and often exciting story whose flaws are frustrating but not enough to spoil the whole reading experience. As talented as she clearly is, Osborne could've smoothed everything over with one more draft. Thumbs-down to her editor at Ace for not insisting upon one.

The story opens on the distant world of Glory, where Arden Grenfell, bodyguard to Princess Jessa, has allowed her young charge to forsake her birthright and flee the planet for parts unknown. Six years later, Arden still languishes in prison, awaiting an inexplicably postponed execution. Then she is offered a deal. Go find Princess Jessa, wherever in space the girl might be, and bring her back, and Arden will be a free woman. See, Jessa's mother, one of the Emperor's most favored concubines, is dying as a result of her addiction to lifeweave, a mysterious alien fabric that somehow enhances a person's mental abilities while taking a devastating toll on their health. Jessa's mother has developed the ability to predict accurately the outcome of the current war Glory is waging against several neighboring worlds, and the Emperor, a cold-hearted swine as emperors tend to be, is enjoying this psychic trump card and wants Jessa to come back to fill in her mother's role.

If you haven't spotted the problem here right away I'll point it out for you: what's to stop Arden from zipping off and losing herself in the vastness of space the instant she gets a ship to fly off in? Osborne explains that the Emperor's people are having her actions monitored, but at first she doesn't explicitly state how they mean to ensure Arden's loyalty. (Say, an explosive device that automatically destroys Arden's vessel if it makes an unscheduled change of course? That'd work.) Indeed, Arden's loyalty seems to hit the Emperor himself as an afterthought, when he asks "Should we send a backup — someone to keep an eye on her?" after she has already left! No wonder this nitwit needs a seer to help him win his wars.

Osborne doesn't ignore the issue of Arden as a flight risk entirely. The Emperor's prime minister, Don Vey, insures Arden's loyalty through her sense of personal honor, her oath to her emperor and to Glory itself. There's also the threat that something nasty might happen to the monastery where Arden was raised, and whose leader, Abbot Grayson, is pretty much the only family she's got. It works, but Osborne should have dealt with this issue more succinctly earlier in the story than she does.

Anyway, Arden traces Jessa to the volcanic mining world of Caldera, where she finds the girl working as part of a salvage crew that, wouldn't you know it, has just stumbled upon a crashed vessel containing the next shipment of lifeweave destined for Glory. All the while, Arden finds herself harried by assassination attempts. Joining forces with a private detective who helps her foil one attempt on her life, Arden confronts Jessa at last. Will she try to force Jessa to return home, or honor the girl's wishes and help her maintain her freedom?

Osborne's characters are appealing, all of them, though her attempts to develop romantic interests between her leads usually lapse into snicker-inducing Harlequin twaddle. (" had been so long and he was so handsome and had such wonderful hands.") What Osborne does well is construct good space opera tension. There are factions on Glory who both want Jessa to return to help the Emperor, then there are those who want the Emperor and his son and heir deposed entirely and Jessa put on the throne in their place. Who belongs to which camp, and who can be trusted?

Action scenes are well-handled. In what could be a nod to Star Wars (as well as Osborne's fondness for Oriental culture and fighting techniques) many characters favor swordfighting to shooting it out with blasters. What isn't handled so well is exactly how the lifeweave works. Who is this strange character Arden encounters while in trance, who has a helpful knack of feeding Arden story clues? (He's like a psychic version of an online walkthrough for a video game at times.) The psychic elements of the novel are kind of given short shrift, which is fine with me, really. When SF writers fall back upon the supernatural, I find it's usually out of laziness. Fortunately, Osborne in the end focuses on what makes good space opera work: action, suspense, characters you like. While not, perhaps, as high-profile among fans as Bujold, Bradley or Cherryh, Cary Osborne is a writer many SF readers might well enjoy discovering.

Followed by Darkloom.