REVIEW: A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright
‘A compelling, mind-bending future that’s finally come home to the present’ – Becky Chambers, author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
When Commander Rallya of the patrol ship Bhattya hires Rafe as their new Web officer, she knows she is taking a risk. As an oath breaker, Rafe has suffered the ultimate punishment – identity wipe – but luckily for him, there’s no one else around qualified for the job. Shunned by his previous shipmates, Rafe is ready to keep his head down and do his job, but his competence quickly earns him respect, admiration, and, in one particular case, love.
It’s difficult to maintain the glow of acceptance however, when his past is chasing him across the galaxy in the shape of an assassin, intent on dealing once and for all with Rafe, whatever the cost.
Originally published in 1988, A Matter of Oaths is a space opera with heart, intergalactic intrigue and epic space battle.
With a new introduction by Becky Chambers, author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
‘Fast paced and inventive … it held my attention to the end’ – C. J. Cherryh
Dear Helen S. Wright,
I found your book because one of my book buddies made a note of wanting to read it on Goodreads, and then I saw a more detailed review by KJ Charles and glanced on some other reviews and I was sold.
Overall I enjoyed the books and really liked several characters; however, I have to warn readers that I may have misunderstood a couple of important world-building concepts (one of them almost certainly), so if you read this book and have a different interpretation of what the concepts mean, please feel free to let me know in comments.
In this world, the only people who can direct space ships are called webbers. I think webbers have enhanced nervous systems, but I was not sure at all how webbers connect with the ships. I know they come into the web, but how they get there is unclear. Was this in essence some kind of Matrix movie-like connection? I wish I could be certain. Having said that, it did not stop me from enjoying the book – so what if I could not understand how webbers pilot their ships and make them jump through space. I know that they did it and it was almost enough. Not quite, but almost.
Webbers from the Guild give their Oaths to the League and they usually do not break the Oaths because the punishment is severe ( see what happened to Rafe, although once again whether he broke that Oath or not is a spoiler question) and because I am assuming that most of them are honorable people.
The Guild provides their services (piloting the ships) to the two Emperors of the New and Old Empire who are currently at war. And here comes another concept I was not sure I understood correctly. I was not sure why the Emperors were at war in the first place. I mean I had an idea, but whether I was right, who knows.
The blurb does not reveal much about the world-building, but gives you a nice set-up where the main characters are concerned without revealing almost anything. Commander Rallya and her two other most important officers on the ship (or so was my impression) are looking for the Web officer. They all end up liking Rafe, however Rallya is not too keen on hiring him when some “nice person” warns them that Rafe is an oath breaker, and for the longest time the readers have no idea what oath Rafe broke and whether he broke any oaths at all. Apparently, his identity was wiped as a punishment.
Eventually Rallya and her officers decide to give Rafe a chance – his work in the web is really good and it is clear that he can put his almost-but-not-quite forgotten abilities to good use on “Bhattya”.
I loved Rafe. I admit that I felt sorry for him almost from the beginning. I often have a soft spot for the characters who struggle to remember, to reconnect with their forgotten or half-forgotten identities. As the book progressed though, I also started to respect him a whole lot for his intelligence and his abilities, for the way he chose to deal with his past and for how much he struggled to remember his past, because the danger of his presence unwillingly brought danger to other people on the “Bhattya”.
Rallya was great, too – extremely competent commander with a sharp tongue (her and Rafe’s verbal duels were a delight to read), who was not perfect in her work, either, and did make some mistakes. I really liked her.
I wanted to note that Rafe has a lovely romance with another officer on the ship. I thought it was incredibly sweet, and it even had at least one non-explicit sex scene. It is important to the story, but the book is a space opera first and foremost. I would not call it a m/m romance but opinions may differ of course. In the second half of the book, the action speeds up very significantly, and I was actually worried hoping that the characters would still find themselves alive at the end.