A Matter of Oaths

By Helen S. Wright

Rating: 4 stars

Rafe is an oath-breaker. As such, he’s had his identity wiped, and is mostly shunned by his colleagues in the Guild of Webbers. But Commander Rallya takes a chance on him, and is rewarded with a fine officer, and Rafe finds respect, admiration and, eventually, love on her ship. But Rafe’s past won’t stay dead, and it comes after him, and those he loves.

The first two thirds of this book is really enjoyable. We come to know and admire Rafe the same pace as his shipmates and enjoy the love he finds with Joshim, a colleague on his ship. I must say that I’m still confused as to why a faction was after him in the first place. I thought I’d read it carefully, but didn’t get that at all. The whole thing goes a bit wonky in the last third or so, as Rafe is captured and the previously prominent Rallya seems to be sidelined a bit. The world-building was interesting and I would definitely like to find out more about the history of the Twin Empires and how the emperors became immortal.

In fact, there’s a huge amount of scope for a sequel. I was surprised to find that Wright doesn’t seem to have written anything else since this. Although it’s a little disappointing towards the end, there’s a lot to enjoy and, as I say, a lot of scope for a sequel, not least the bombshell thrown in the last page. And as well as this what’s with the F’sair trying to steal Guild secrets and what was the web room in Julur’s palace? Who built it? It seems pretty advanced and has control over bits of the palace. That seems out of place for an emperor as paranoid as Julur is portrayed.

The book was originally published in 1988, and I guess it must have been a hard sell at that time, given that the protagonists are a black, queer man, and a grumpy, and very strong, older woman. One thing I like about the book is that not only are men and women completely equal in the Guild, but there are people from all over the LGBT spectrum, and sexuality is embraced, not hidden away.

Off the back of this book, Wright obviously has talent, and I’d like to see more by her. This interview following the re-publication of the novel suggests that she’s writing again and maybe we’ll see the fruits of that soon.

Book details

ISBN: 9781448216970
Publisher: Bloomsbury Caravel
Year of publication: 1988

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