Review: “Jaran” by Kate Elliott

Thumbs up for Jaran by Kate Elliott. Science fiction.

I always suspected, from having read about the anthropological bent of this book a long time ago, that I would like it. Unfortunately, the paperback edition I always see has the most excruciating type and my eyes would not cooperate. At last, on little more than a whim, I broke down and bought the ebook (or rather, the four-in-one ebook). Now I have a problem, because I loved this book so much I can’t actually review it cogently. The paperback, to give you context, is 500 pages of small type, and I read it in two sittings, the second of which extended to 3:00 (or was it 4:00?) in the morning, causing me to call in to work the next day with a book hangover. It’s—it’s—er—well, in lieu of any more sophisticated way to express my love, I’m going to go cheap with a comparison and say it’s what Outlander should have been and wasn’t. There are striking similarities in the plot: woman from an advanced society is stranded among a far less technologically advanced people, and has to take a long journey via horse to get home. Along the way, political intrigue, adventure and romance. Except every single thing about it is better. (That’s not a dis on Outlander, which was a perfectly good book; it’s just that I loved Jaran that much.) Elliott’s culture is her own invention, but it feels very real. Not a single thing about the worldbuilding struck a false note. Jaran is a perfect balance of character and society, shown through through often-witty interactions; bouts of page-turning action; and a hell-of-a-lot sexier simmering romantic tension than the to-me rather tedious boffing of Claire and Jamie. Of course, all my accolades could just as well be a warning: it’s a 500-page book focusing on the subtle relationships of characters to each other in the context of a highly mannered society. If that’s not your thing, avoid it like the plague. But, obviously, it’s my thing.

On Earth she had learned to walk without hearing, to look without seeing. she had surrounded herself with a wall. Here she listened: to the wind, to the horses, to the voices of the jaran as they spoke, wanting to be heard, to hear. On Earth she had taught herself to deal with people as if they weren’t there; only to protect herself, of course. Yet how many times had she spoken to people, only to realize later that she had never once looked them in the eye? In this land, one saw, one looked, and the lowering of eyes was as eloquent as their meeting.

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