The first book of Kate Elliott’s epic Novels of the Jaran, set in an alien-controlled galaxy where a young woman seeks to find her own life and love, but is tied to her brother’s revolutionary fate.
This is one of Kate Elliot’s earliest novels, and it shows. If you’re interested in exploring her work as an author, this is not the best entry point.
I wanted to like this novel more than I did, but the underlying message of “just embrace your gender identity and gender roles!” wasn’t working well for me. The book’s primary theme revolved around the protagonist, Tess, accepting her feminine side and being accepted by the indigenous tribe of Jaran warriors as a woman. She does, admittedly, defy some gender roles by insisting on riding with the tribe hunters. However, she is only able to succeed in this because the men make allowances for her and help her at every step of the way. She has a few other moments as well, involving flouting the normal marriage/relationship dynamic in the tribe. Despite these, I couldn’t help but feel that all of her genuine successes in the book were due to her deciding to accept her place as a woman, since she would be happiest there. She is often extremely passive in decision-making and is strongly influenced by the men around her, who often coddle her or make decisions for her (tricking her into hiding her away from a battle, et cetera).
It also ended up being a bit more of a romance than I anticipated. I’ll be honest in that I’m sometimes a sucker for romance… but the “will she-won’t she?” thing gets kind of old, and it was a major theme throughout the whole book. In the end, her decision in the matter was taken from her, which was another strike against her independence.
I went in with high hopes for Kate Elliot, as it would have been great to have another wonderful woman author to add to my shelf. At the end of the day, this book just fell flat for me with the portrayal of gender. It feels like Elliot was half-heartedly trying to be progressive in many areas, but still ended up robbing the protagonist of her agency in 90% of circumstances. I didn’t dislike the book and felt like I got something out of reading it, but it definitely wasn’t a favorite.
About the Author
Kate Elliott has been writing stories since she was nine years old, which has led her to believe that writing, like breathing, keeps her alive. As a child in rural Oregon, she made up stories because she longed to escape to a world of lurid adventure fiction.
Her most recent novel is Unconquerable Sun, gender swapped Alexander the Great in space. She is also known for her Crown of Stars epic fantasy series, the Afro-Celtic post-Roman alt-history fantasy (with lawyer dinosaurs) Cold Magic and sequels, the science fiction Novels of the Jaran and YA fantasy Court of Fives, and the epic fantasy Crossroads trilogy with giant justice eagles.
Her particular focus is immersive world building & centering women in epic stories of adventure & transformative cultural change. She lives in Hawaii, where she paddles outrigger canoes & spoils her schnauzer. You can find her online at kateelliott.substack.com and @KateElliottSFF on Twitter.