In the provocative tradition of speculative classics such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, N. Lee Wood presents a rich, complex portrait of an intriguing interstellar world.
Nathan Crewe planned to make his academic reputation by stealing rare plant samples from Vanar-a powerful, secretive planet that forbids all foreigners and controls all space transport. Instead, he is betrayed by a jealous lover and left marooned, impoverished, and friendless on a strict matriarchal world where men have no legal rights. Arrested and imprisoned, Nathan is rescued by the head of an influential family who takes an interest in him and teaches him the complex rules of her society. As he adapts to their culture, Nathan learns of an ancient malice buried deep in the history of this world - one that will threaten him and everyone he has come to care for. And he discovers that his arrival on Vanar was anything but accidental. Closed to offworlders, Vanar has made its name by controling all space travel through the interstellar Worms that link solar systems. And only Vanar's Pilots (another all girl club, of course) are capable of guiding ships into and out of the Worms.
Even with the help of a powerful woman on his side, Nathanís life is filled with frustrations as he struggles to learn the complicated Vanar language as well as its customs. How do men get along on this planet? Like women courtiers of old: by using their beauty and their prowess while getting lost in the pettiness of showing each other up. He does manage to befriend an otherwise friendless boy whom no one else wants and be his protector (unfortunately vice versa). He falls in love with a pilot who has come back to Vanar to get pregnant, and she helps him learn the language. These two friendships manage to preserve Nathanís sanity when suddenly he figures out his ex-lover has betrayed him by selling him to the matriarch who supposedly befriended for no reason.
The richness of detail and the emotional depth of this novel make it an amazing read. All the time I was reading it, it kept inspiring me with ideas for stories of my own. I loved how everything in the novel was cyclical and as soon as you thought up a question it got answered. Before you even thought of a possible plot outcome, it hit you right between the eyes - not easy for serious sci-fi/fantasy fans. Fans of thrillers and suspense novels will love this book, too, with all of its twists and turns, the emotion nakedly shown on the page - the passion, the loneliness, the betrayals. This is a book for lovers of romance, mysteries, sci-fi, and all other book types. A definite must-read.