Okay, here’s another older title. Has anyone heard of this one? It was published back in 1991 and really should have gotten wider notice at that time, not so much because the plot elements are unusual, but because of its wonderful use of language. Like so:
I was minding my own business in beautiful downside Wanderweb, having just managed to mislay my cargo for the right price. My nighttime man had talked me into bootlegging again, and damsilly stuff it was, too – either maintenance manuals or philosophy texts. I never did figure out which, even with sixty hours time in Firecat between Coldwater and Wanderweb to stare at them and Paladin to read them to me.
So I was making my way around Wanderweb, free, female and a damn sight over the age of reason, when I saw this greenie right in front of me in the street.
He was definitely a toff, and no stardancer – you never saw such clothes outside of a hollycast. He was lit up like Dream Street at night and wearing enough heat to stock an Imperial Armory besides. And this being scenic Wanderweb, land of enchantment, there was six of K’Jarn’s werewolves and K’Jarn facing him. I was of the opinion – then – that he couldn’t do for them before they opened him up, so, fancy-free, I opened my mouth and said: “Good morning, thou nobly-born K’Jarn. Airt hiert out to do wetwork these days or just to roll glitterborn for kicks, hey?”
K’Jarn looked up from pricing Tiggy Stardust’s clothes and said, “N’portada je, S’Cyr. Purdu.”
K’Jarn and me has known each other ever since I started running cargos into Wanderweb Free Port and he started trying to boost them. For once I should of took his advice. But, hell, it was seven-on-one and I’ve never liked K’Jarn.
“Like Imperial Mercy I will. Yon babby’s my long-lost lover and my maiden aunt and I’m taking him home to Mother any day now. Fade.”
He might have, except that just then one of K’Jarn’s wingmen got restless and took a swipe at the glitterborn with a vibroblade. Tiggy Stardust moved faster than anything human and swiped back and I burned K’Jarn before he could mix in. K’Jarn dropped his blaster, not having a hand to hold it with anymore, and left on urgent business. So did everybody else.
Business as usual in wondertown and not enough fuss for the CityGuard to show up. Except for the deader Tiggy made and another I didn’t have time to get fancy with, me and him was alone and he wasn’t moving.
I went to see if there was anything left to salvage. He snaked around and then it was me down and staring up at an inert-blade knife as long as my thigh while he choodled at me unfriendly-like.
I can get along in flash, cant, and Trade, but I couldn’t make head nor hind out of his parley, and I thought at first I’d hit my head too hard. But then I knew that what I had actually gone and done was the stupidest thing of my whole entire life. I’d rescued a hellflower.
Look at that opening! This book is a delight from the first lines. Fun and fast-paced and completely understandable even though we hardly know half the words, and look how Shahar instantly establishes both voice and setting.
Butterfly’s real name is Saint Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere, btw, which is one of my all-time favorite names. She’s a scrappy streetwise woman, born on a low-tech world but now, as you see, out and about in the wide world. She has a habit of picking up unusual and remarkably dangerous stray puppies, including this young hellflower, “Tiggy”, and her highly illegal Library, Paladin, who’s an AI housed in her ship.
It all makes sense in context.
HELLFLOWER is a fast ride, a character-driven adventure SF story with plenty of action. Fantasy fans ought to like it, I think, because adventure SF reads a lot like adventure fantasy – this is nothing like, oh, Kim Stanley Robison’s SF, which is slow-paced and heavy on setting, light on character, and, well, basically, the antithesis of adventure stories. Of course you have to enjoy Butterfly’s voice; if that puts you off, naturally this isn’t the book for you. Actually, Butterfly’s voice is reminescent, now that I think of it, with the “first person smartass” type of voice that generally I think of more in connection with, say, Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. Anyway, I love Shahar’s clever writing.
I should just add, though HELLFLOWER doesn’t end on a true cliffhanger, it’s only semi-self-contained. The sequels are DARKTRADERS and ARCHANGEL BLUES; the whole thing has been collected in the omnibus BUTTERFLY AND HELLFLOWER. I will say, the first time I read this trilogy, I was somewhat upset at the way it ended. However, when I re-read it years later, I was better prepared for how it would end and found it reasonably satisfying. From this, you will probably gather, accurately, that the trilogy does not end with a simple And-then-they-lived-happily-ever-after. I mention this because, like me, you may find the ending more to your taste if you know going in that it is rather ambiguous rather than a straight-up happy ending.
These books don’t seem to be available in ebook form, but they’re still available in paper. Eluki bes Shahar doesn’t seem to have written much else, though she’s been involved in comics, I see. But! She is also Rosemary Edghill, and is still writing under that name. I see she has cowritten quite a number of titles with Mercedes Lackey, but I have in fact never read anything with the Edghill name on it. If you have, please let us know what you thought of them!