95fe70fa8086e43596f62506567444341587343I was a little worried when I first picked up PRIESTESS OF THE EGGSTONE because it is technically the second book in the “Fall of the Altairan Empire” series (the first is titled NEXUS POINT). This was an unfounded fear, as PRIESTESS OF THE EGGSTONE functions just fine as a stand-alone science fiction novel.

Mild plot spoilers follow.

PRIESTESS OF THE EGGSTONE begins as a classic example of the science fiction sub-genre I might term “commerce SF,” mostly about protagonists in space opera settings who work as, or want to be, freelance merchants and traders in the space lanes. Examples include many of C. J. Cherryh’s novels (the Merchanter and Chanur series in particular); Andre Norton’s Solar Queen series; and Poul Anderson’s Van Rijn series (there are many more I could mention, but those are some of the better known examples of this sub-genre). I hasten to add that – despite the emphasis on commerce rather than exploration or combat – these aren’t “mundane SF” novels. They aren’t about accounting in space, or paying all the required landing fees and dutifully obeying space regulations. They often involve encounters with pirates; misadventures in ports with thieves, customs officials, and thieving customs officers; and narrow escapes from a variety of dangers. In short, I have found that these kinds of novels typically involve exciting conflict without emphasizing the military derring-do that is all too typical of science fiction.

PRIESTESS OF THE EGGSTONE is in good company. Here, a young female pilot with a troubled past, Dace, wants nothing more than to own her own trading vessel and become an independent merchant. The universe conspires against Dace’s attempts to achieve that dream. She’s a pilot not a navigator (dammit, Jim!) and so she hires a navigator who soon gets her into a world of trouble. He has stolen the eponymous Eggstone, an object of unknown but great significance to an alien race that is willing to do whatever it takes to get the Eggstone back. They can’t simply return the Eggstone because it was already sold, so now the pair and their comrades have to locate it while dodging inimical aliens. Oh and the company that Dace works for is actually a front for a smuggling operation, so that causes further problems, plus the Star Patrol is still trying to pressure Dace to join them as an undercover agent (this was apparently the major plot of the first novel).

The tone of the novel wavers a bit; at times, it seems fairly light-hearted, yet it never fully becomes a comedy. The stakes are real (and occasionally deadly). It’s a mix of commerce SF, first contact, and space opera-ish schemes and adventures. While having read the first novel was certainly not necessary, it would have provided some additional insights about Dace’s past. Her troubled origins are occasionally referenced, but the details are not entirely clear to me. I should also make clear that the protagonist is a young, emotionally immature woman, and one of her two love interests is an equally immature young man. This naturally leads to some frustrating behavior on both parts. The both behave childishly at times, so for a grumpy middle-aged reader like myself, this characterization occasionally annoyed me, but it never became intolerable.

This wasn’t the greatest science fiction novel I’ve ever read, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either (by far). It was perfectly enjoyable. Recommended for readers interested in science fiction that’s a bit out of the mainstream, and not oriented toward military actions – I might even term PRIESTESS OF THE EGGSTONE as “space opera lite.”

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Review copyright © 2013 J. Andrew Byers