Tharassas Colony was settled by a homogeneous religious group fond of conformity, and not so fond of anything that smacks of otherness. Unfortunately for Jas, she is absolutely an other on her world. Her skin is darker, her hair is darker, and she has an intuitive connection with the alien flora of her planet, the mysterious hencha plants that serve as the staple of her world’s economy. It’s almost as if she can hear them speak, sometimes — a secret she keeps to herself.
Sera is a runner, flying a ship from Earth laden with goods for the distant colony planet, including spices, fabrics, medicines, and information. The news she carries, though, isn’t happy. Earth is … gone, or as well as gone, and she is the last ship Tharassas — or any other colony — is likely to see for some time. When disaster strikes her ship, Sera has no choice but to crash land and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, Tharassas is not only xenophobic and neophobic, it’s also likes setting things on fire it doesn’t like, and the ruling body of Tharassas doesn’t want to their people to hear what Sera has to say.
Jas is a dreamer in a world of obedient workers. She’s young, wistful, and full of romance — not in the sexual sense, though there is a bit of that, but in the desire and feeling of mystery and adventure, of seeing something beyond the every day reality into the tomorrows to come. More than eager for a chance to see the rest of the world and the worlds beyond, when her mother’s illness gets worse, she’s quick to find a way to get them both to the capital city in search of medicine.
Sera is a pragmatist who has had to put aside her horror upon discovering that her beloved wife died in the cryosleep between Earth and the far-flung colony because her ship is on a collision course with a city, risking the deaths of countless people. She’s able to put her grief aside for the moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, that the pain of Tavi’s loss doesn’t threaten to swallow her whole. It’s just that now is not the time. Surviving the landing is only the first part, as she’s soon threatened with a painful and horrific death — amusingly enough, a death similar to the one she spared the Tharassans.
Jas, when she sees the stranger in danger, is quick to come to her defense. Not just because Sera is one of the ‘angels’ her mother calls the Runners, but because she’s a person, and she’s not unaware of the fact that Sera saved the city.
This story reminds me very much of my dad’s classic science fiction I read when I was a kid, stories where wonder triumphed over scientific accuracy, and the characters were just as important as the concepts. The small-minded Tharassan culture isn’t a heavy handed “conformity is evil” so much as “these particular people use their power for evil.” It’s a subtlety I always enjoy. I very much hope there are more books taking place in this world, if not on this planet, because I enjoyed reading this story and look forward to more from this author.