Read this week: All three books of The Highroad Trilogy, by Kate Elliott
Up next: More Than This by Patrick Ness
I had read and loved Kate Elliott‘s Spiritwalker trilogy, starting with Cold Magic, so when I needed to refresh my book list I looked her up again to see what else she’d written. I’d also seen the cover of The Price of Ransome, the last book in the series, floating around on people’s recommended reading lists on Tumblr – and since my Tumblr feed is as obsessively curated as the nick knacks on my desk (which is to say, very) I took that as a pretty solid recommendation.
Tumblr and Kate Elliott did not disappoint. About a hundred pages into A Passage of Stars I bought Revolution’s Shore and The Price of Ransome, because a) I was invested and b) no there CANNOT be any lag time between book 1 and book 2, that’s just absurd, I need to know what happens right now.
Here are some things I liked about each book and the trilogy overall:
- World building. The books give you enough to know where you are and to be interested in it, but not so much you’re like, okay, okay, moving along now. It was obvious that thought had gone into the history, circumstances, and culture that shaped each world, each space station, and each ship, but Elliott is confident enough as an author that she doesn’t lay all that out for you to prove it.
- A subset of the above but notable enough for its own bullet: race and culture. I don’t know if it’d count as a spoiler or not so I won’t go into much detail, but there is a specific and lengthy history to who the characters of this space opera are that is both relevant to modern-day culture and very far evolved from it. Book 3 does an especially good job of examining some of these issues, and speculating in a way I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi or speculative fiction actually do.
- Lily. Our heroine Lily Hae Ransome is the kind of heroine you would expect from Elliott if you’ve read The Spiritwalker Trilogy. Which is to say, she is a woman who is written like a human, who gets the novel treatment of being fully realized with her own strengths and weaknesses, amid a diverse cast of other women. I love Lily for the same reasons I love Cat and Bee, not because those women are anything alike but because they are each strong and flawed in their own ways, and I never have to suffer through any of them being held up as The One Exceptional Woman or morality tales.
- The secondary characters and subplots. Sure, there’s some epic space opera business going on, mentors to save, governments to overthrow, but personal drama doesn’t stop just because everybody’s on a spaceship. I really respect Elliott’s ability to write and pace her secondary cast of characters in a way that makes me feel very attached to them and invested in their stories, even if those stories occupy very little in the way of actual page count.
- How timeless these books are. When I searched the trilogy in preparation for this post, I found it had originally been published in the 1990s. THE 1990S. That is officially a long time ago. Some people who are adults today weren’t born in the year 1990. The books are now out in e-book only format, which have a release date of 2013, and that, combined with the recency of the recommendation I got, led me to believe these were recent publications. I went through the whole trilogy thinking the same, only to find out literally minutes before writing this it wasn’t the case. Maybe the books just aren’t old enough to be old school sci-fi, but they are also enough their own world, with their own imagery and norms, that nothing felt stuck in the traditions of older sci-fi.
- And finally, how each book feels important. Trilogies can sometimes suffer from a middle book sag, where you’ve got how everything has to start in book 1, and how everything has to wrap up in book 3, but book 2 is an important if kind of iffy slog between the two. I would be hard pressed to name a favorite book in this trilogy, because I thought book 2 was both great and explored some really interesting ideas about politics and inspirational leaders.
Highly recommended for all your action, adventure, alien encounter, far-future space opera needs.