Shield's Lady, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Monday, January 10, 2005

We're having an Jayne Ann Krentz / Amanda Quick / many other aka's month at one of the groups I belong to. We each choose one (or more) books of hers to read and post about them. The book I chose was one I first read a couple of years ago, and very much enjoyed. In fact, it sparked a massive reread of JAK's backlist. It's a futuristic, Shield's Lady, which was written as Amanda Glass, a pseudonym JAK used only this time.

The book is set in the planet of Windarra, where many years before, a couple of ships full of colonists from Earth were stranded after they run into trouble while trying to land. The whole mission was a kind of experiment by Earth social philosophers, who were trying to create some kind of system of rigid social classes. Anyway, one of the ships was carrying the more artistic, creative types, while the other was full of extremely rational business-people.

After the very violent landing, the ships ended up separated, each not knowing what had happened to the other and without the technology needed to make contact. So, two very different societies evolved in distant parts of Windarra, and the story takes place a few years after these societies manage to find each other again, thanks to some inventions which make distant travel possible.

Sariana, the heroine, was born and raised in the East, in the colonies which evolved from the occupants of the "business-like" ship. This is a serious, rational society, which prizes these characteristics, as well as people fitting in exactly the right slots. Sariana's problems there started when she flunked entrance to the business school, because her test scores showed a bit too much creativity and openness to experimentation. Her fiancé (an arranged betrothal, of course, since love isn't important in the courting process in the east) dumped her like a hot potato, because her whole future was compromised by this and her whole life seemed to be a failure.

Sariana's solution was to emigrate to the wild, wild western colonies, evolved from the "artistic" ship. Her plan was to apply her business skills there, be hugely successful, and use this as leverage to manage to take the tests again and get into the business school, thus taking her rightful place in the East. The book starts as she's working to solve the financial problems of a Western jeweller's clan. She's solved the purely financial problems, but the remaining problem seems to be the disappearance of an unique tool that used to belong to the clan, a prisma-cutter, the only way prisma (a hugely expensive crystal native of Windarra) can be manipulated.

Sariana decides to hire a Shield, a member of a clan of mysterious, dangerous warriors in the Western provinces, and the book starts as she accidentally has Gryph, the hero, knocked out with a mild hypnotic, which she intended only to put him in a good mood, since he has been ignoring all her written overtures.

Gryph immediately recognizes Sariana as a potential Shieldmate... that is, a woman who is capable of a special bond with him. In short order, he's tricked her into marriage and bonding with him and they're off into the wild frontier, in search of the prisma cutter, which seems to have been stolen by another Shield.

I'm usually not much into "destined lovers" stories. I like to see why the hero and heroine fall in love with each other, and "because we're fated to be together" simply doesn't cut it. It was different here. Being Shieldmates is a very deep bond, but doesn't necessarily imply love, so I could see Sariana and Gryph falling in love not only because or through their bond, though the intense sexual connection it created helped. I guess what worked was that I was able to see them being drawn to each other even if the Shieldmate thing hadn't even existed.

One of the things I like about JAK's books is the sense of intimacy she creates between her characters, and the way they just crave each other. Her heroes, especially, don't just want the heroines, they need them, they are incomplete without them. It's this which is missing in many of her latest releases, and it's what makes earlier books such as this one so tremendously satisfying.

Gryph is a bit too arrongant, and Sariana is sometimes a little too feisty, but on the whole, I really enjoyed them. The way their relationship was written was just wonderful

Also, a big part of my enjoyment was the very imaginative setting. It wasn't perfect... I mean, the very rigid distinctions between the East and West provinces were a bit too simplistic (it's just not believable that everyone in a society is artistic and creative just because their ancestors were, for instance), but I was enjoying myself so much that I was able to overlook these flaws. I just love futuristics (or sci-fiction / fantasy books) where the focus isn't on court intrigue and whether the world as they know it will survive, but on people just living "normal" lives in a fantastic, different world.

I highly recommend this one, even if futuristics aren't usually your thing. My grade would be an A-.


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