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||Aug 1 1995
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" "You're now as blind as the justice you serve. Because you cannot see, you can no longer distinguish between rich and poor. And since all will stand equal before your court, you'll be able to judge them with perfect impartiality."
These ritual words evoke the curse and the gift of the mysterious Archon, ultimate legal authority of the planet Nublis, the lively setting of Kate Saundby's The Julian Trilogy, of which WAGES OF JUSTICE is the first book. Part science fiction, part social satire, and all romantic adventure, Saundby entwines many themes with her strong unifying voice--a voice that is always, whatever else, out for fun."
Ellen Larson - Midwest Book Reviews
No one sane wants either of the two most powerful positions on the planet Nublis. Emperor and archon, supreme judge, are slaves to 3,000 years of tradition. The emperor can abdicate. Only death can free the archon. But the planet of Nublis is rich and the ripe plum desired by a pirate who would be king. Can those who have pledged their lives to serve their world save their world?
"All rise for His Grace, the Archon!"
In total blackness and not sure which way to face, Cassius signed, "Where are you?"
Finally came the majordomo's reassuring touch. As the majordomo guided Cassius' gloved hands toward the silver hammer and the golden knife that were the symbols of his office, the voice sounded again. "Be seated! The archon's court is now in session!"
The movements and breathing of those already present and the snick of the lock on the witness room door were the only sounds he heard. A whisper, instantly hushed, was followed by a faint click from a guard's weapon. He'd evidently turned to frown in the direction of the offender.
Blindfolded as always when he presided over the court, Cassius saw the prosecutor and advocate for the accused in his mind's eye. They'd be waiting nervously at their respective tables, and behind them, two rows of spectators, knowing better than to cough or even fidget. At the rear of the lofty oak-paneled courtroom, a pair of motionless blue-armored sentinels maintained order and guarded the immense brass-plated doors.
The scent of fear polluting the already breathless air just below his throne could only be the defendant's. Understandable, reflected Cassius. His demeanor had to be terrifying at the best of times. This was not the best of times.
"You're now as blind as the justice you serve. Because you cannot see, you can no longer distinguish between rich and poor. And since all will stand equal before your court, you'll be able to judge them with perfect impartiality."
These ritual words evoke the curse and the gift of the mysterious Archon, ultimate legal authority of the planet Nublis, the lively setting of Kate Saundby's The Julian Trilogy, of which WAGES OF JUSTICE is the first book. Part science fiction, part social satire, and all romantic adventure, Saundby entwines many themes with her strong unifying voice--a voice that is always, whatever else, out for fun.
A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far way) the common-law marriage of two literary outcasts, science fiction and swords-n-sorcery, was legitimized by the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey. Many and varied have been the literary offspring of that union, vigorous hybrids (sub-genre Scientifica sorcoreum) recognizable by their varying mix of battering rams and blasters; ion propulsion and chariots; as if the Star Trek customizable Card Game and the D&D paraphernalia had been put into the same box and shaken vigorously.
Kate Saundby, in the first of eleven books set on Nublis, makes cheerful use of this by now socially acceptable amalgamation. On Nublis, gold pieces jingle in the same purse as credit chips, phantoms of dead Old Ones are as potent as Fifth Millennium medical technology, and secret passageways allow for mysterious disappearances below ground while interplanetary spaceships do battle in the skies. Displaying another distinctive trait (made popular by Katherine Kurtz in her Deryni series) the Nublians--however medieval their clothes sense might be--eschew heightened language and employ the wise-cracking modern style of speech, a lingua franca that apparently reaches across the boundaries of time, space, and genre to worlds as farflung as Xena and Space Precinct.
Saundby is more in the tradition of Kurtz than LeGuin. She does for the legal system what Kurtz did for the Catholic church--rip off its musty robes, expose its stodgy secrets, and carry its most hallowed traditions to absurd lengths to point out inherent flaws. But where Kurtz favors the swords-n-sorcery, Saundby leans towards the science fiction end of the spectrum. She is also more humorous--her characters' anxiety about fending off the sensation-seeking tabloid press comes to mind--and more of a social commentator. She not only pokes fun at convention, she digs in, probing at issues of truth vs. appearance, responsibility vs. excusability, and damnation vs. redemption. This is understandable, as Saundby, who now lives in rural Tennessee, spent time playing party politics in her salad days and has since made occasional appearances in newsprint as a self-described "political scold."
Needless to say, the Nublians, a likable people descended from old Earth, get a good workout, including several sensational murder trials, a royal wedding, and an interplanetary invasion. Since WAGES OF JUSTICE is the first book of a trilogy, we expect to be introduced to a cast of characters we can live with, and a social order that holds water. Happily, this proves to be the case. Cassius, the present Archon, fated to a life apart and suffering the side effects of his medically-induced judicial powers, appeals to the emotions and the intellect. His brother Julian, the Emperor, is sufficiently heroic as a warrior and a lover, but is somewhat annoyingly prone to death-defying escapes. Highly enjoyable from her first appearance in a ruby tiara and scandalously low-cut gown is the brothers' stepmother, the conniving Dowager Duchess Irina (her middle name should be Livia) and her various henchmen, sons, and lovers. The various virtuous ladies are all adventurous and smart, but lack the depth of the men and Irina, besides which, the ingenues have an irritating habit of carrying kittens wherever they go.
In fact, Saundby's villains are as a class her strongest characters, which is unfortunate to the extent that her readers' sympathies for her heroes are distracted and hence, diluted. The meting out of summary justice is less than satisfying when you are secretly rooting for the bad guy. Which leads me to point out that, despite the superabundance of palace romances (Piratical invader to his lieutenant: "With the amount of consensual sex around here, there's no need to be taking anyone by force.") Saundby holds no brief for sentiment. She is not above letting the sword of justice fall (swish, thud), nor are even her most sympathetic characters guaranteed immunity from persecution.
Sworn to tell the whole truth, I will bear witness to a few injudicious gaps in the plot. For example, I don't care how far out in the boonies the Emporer's fiancie lived, and how busy she was getting dressed for the wedding (it's the 20 foot train....), I am certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, that someone would have mentioned the, er, unusual experiences facing her on her wedding night. There is also a little fudging of the facts regarding Irina's paramour, which left me wondering if I was supposed to be too unobservant to notice, or to mind (I noticed, I minded).
Murder trials, palace intrigue, and space battles add up to making THE WAGES OF JUSTICE an exciting read. And, as an added incentive, entwined around the sturdy action plot like a silver garland round a Douglas fir, is a delicately-handled fantasia of mysticism, which appears without warning but without disruption, adding depth to the characters and to the world that Kate Saundby has created and invites us to visit. Best of all, Saundby can write: her style is fast-paced but not rushed, clear but not barren, and distinctive in a genre where inbreeding oftentimes results in felonious cliche. That more than tips the scales for me.
Reviewed By: Ellen Larson
Ellen Larson is a freelance writer living in Cairo, Egypt. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have been published in the US, Egypt, and on the Internet since 1971. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Call it Peyton Space or The Young And The Weightless, and it still boils down to the same thing: space opera on the soapy side. The characters you love to hate, the melodrama, the instant love-it's all there in Wages Of Justice, and there are two volumes still to come in The Julian Trilogy.
That's right; your stories should run for years.
On the planet Nublis, life is a somewhat fractured fairy tale. Emperors and Empresses, heirs to the throne, royal jewels. The whole court system is still in place on this distant world, and, of course, intrigue is a given.
If you're going to have a monarchy, you're going to have people plotting to seize the throne. For every charismatic, noble hero there is going to be a dastardly villain.
That's just the way things go in soaps. Ask anyone.
Nublis' benevolent ruler has enough to deal with as head of state; the last thing he needs is treachery within his ranks. What he really needs is a good woman at his side. Enter the feisty and beautiful Corey, the perfect mate for the Emperor. Theirs is a marriage made in heaven, if you overlook the rather absurd wedding night.
If they get the heavenly existence, someone has to get the hellish flipside. That misfortune falls to the Archon, the supreme judge of Nublis, the embodiment of blind justice. Cut off from the world and captive to the system, his word is the law. He is in some ways more important than the Emperor, certainly much more difficult to replace.
So, maybe everything isn't perfect on Nublis, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a prize worth seizing. (Remember one of the hard and fast rules of soap operas: Any perfect situation or happiness is going to be constantly threatened.) And there are those who are more than ready to grab for control of the peaceful planet and its considerable resources.
Whether the defenders are going to be equal to the task we will just have to read on and find out.
Some aspects of Wages Of Justice are troubling, making it difficult to maintain that willing suspension of disbelief. Although capable of space travel, the Nublians seem to be unaware of the concept of telephones; pages and couriers carry the bulk of daily communications. And a more accident-prone group would be almost impossible to locate; the main characters spend a disproportionate amount of their time barely avoiding Death's clutches. The frequency of near-death experiences moves the phenomenon into the realm of the commonplace. Of course, when they are not dying they are at least mildly injured.
But that's the nature of soaps, whether they take place in Dallas, or Santa Barbara, or in outer space; it's one trial after another and no one is entitled to lasting happiness. If things always worked out, who would keep tuning in? Plausibility is near the bottom of the list of necessities. If it 's on the list at all.
(Copyright ) 1999 Lisa Dumond
Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine.
Justice literally is blind on Nublis in the Fifth Millennium, and when the hooded Archon gives the death sentence to the murdering son of the InterPlanetary Synod's Chief Justice, he just may have sentenced his half-brother Julian, Emperor of Nublis to the same fate!
Julian is no stranger to intrigue; he must constantly stay one step ahead of his scheming stepmother, her sons, and her loyal supporters. Stay g ahead of his young half-sister Princess Elaine is usually a more pleasant task - until he must confront her about rumors of secret meetings with Jonah, a lowly kitchen servant. When several attempts are made on Julian's life, to protect the throne he's forced to take a bride chosen according to Nublis tradition.
The Emperor's pending marriage sends his enemies into frenzied action. Princess Elaine is attacked, Julian's stepbrother is dead, and Jonah stands accused of both actions. Betrayed by his friend, Julian is kidnapped and attempts are made on the lives of his family. Then the infamous pirate Lord Ethan arrives to claim Nublis as his new base. Will the people of Nublis and their mystical and sacred way of life be the price for the wages of justice?
Author Kate Saundby weaves an incredible tale of intrigue and passion on the Nublis planet. Blending customs and traditions that are both beautiful and tragic in their consequences, Saundby creates a world that demands decisions, actions and sacrifices only the strongest heroes and heroines can deliver - and they certainly do! Be sure to order books two and three of the trilogy - you won't want the story to end!
Reviewed By: Jamie Engle
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