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Jaran by Kate Elliot

Jaran (1992)

by Kate Elliot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Jaran (1)

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I got this book through Santathing (on Librarything) and I'm very glad my santa chose it for me. I'm not going into all the politics here (read the blurb, or better yet, the book), but in short, Tess, child of a space-faring nation, sort of accidentally ends up on a more primitive planet among a nomad tribe along with a bunch of Chapaali, who are definitely not supposed to be there. She tries to find out what it is they are looking for, meanwhile making a place for herself among the nomads (the Jaran).
I asked my santa to find me books with good female characters that are not overshadowed by male characters. She did a good job with this one! The culture of the Jaran has some decidedly intriguing gender roles. Although most of the tasks are divided among men and women pretty much the way you would expect (men fighting, women cooking and tending the children), it is the women who are in charge. They own the tents and make most of the decisions. They can have as many lovers as they choose, but... it is the men that make the choice in marriage. Marriage is arranged by a man marking a woman's face with a knife, and I must admit, that didn't sit entirely well with me. After she is marked, a woman has little choice left, but bear in mind that she can avoid to be marked, and once married is still allowed to choose lovers as long as she is discreet.
In time, Tess adjusts to this culture, and takes lovers of her own. I'm not 100 % happy about the most important of them, who is highly driven, arrogant and stubborn and about whom it is implied that Tess is the only one who can temper him. At some point, he acquires a tent, and she lives in it, instead of owning her own. Although she does stand up for herself, it sometimes seems as if she has less power in her relationship than others do. On the other hand, their relationship grows fair and square. And both characters are intriguing.

I also like that although gender roles are well defined, Tess manages to find a place for herself among the male riders, and in the end becomes a role model for some of the other women.

Overall, I really liked this book, and I really liked the Jaran society. ( )
  zjakkelien | Jan 26, 2014 |
My reluctance to re-read blurbs before beginning a book pays off again! I had no idea what to expect from Jaran, except that I love Kate Elliott's writing and was looking forward to reading some science fiction by her (having previously only read the Crossroads books). Jaran begins slowly, a little too slowly for me, but develops into a beautifully complex and engaging novel that had me eagerly reading way past my bed-time!

The most fascinating aspect of this novel, for me, is the jaran culture. Largely tribal and nomadic, women are placed uncommonly high in the social structure and possess the power to choose lovers, take in children, and are the leaders of each tribe. However, the men are powerful in matters of war and travel, and can take spouses (an important distinction here, women choose their lovers, but men choose wives). I was immediately intrigued by their culture, and although I feared Elliott wouldn't be able to resist politicizing this non-traditional structure, I found that it wasn't so. Tess comments on the differences in the ways jaran look at life - men shouldn't flirt openly, the sun is called She and the moon He - but readers are ultimately left to discover the pros and cons of this society on their own.

Balanced against this culture is Tess, who has grown up in a more ... for lack of a better word, Westernised culture, and initially struggles to understand the freedom and power she has as a woman with the jaran. I admire Tess' determination and stubborn nature, but quickly grew weary of her tears and blushing. It isn't so much that I thought her weakened by those displays, but that I couldn't understand the impulses behind them. Tears appeared not only when she was sad or angry, but when she was tired, when things didn't go her way, and a few times, for no discernible reason at all. Additionally, while it was clear that Tess isn't a stranger to intimacy between a man and a woman, she's prone to blushing at every joke and insinuation. Which I could have understood, if she hadn't also assimilated that particular aspect of jaran culture. It seems contradictory to me that she (rightly) revelled in the power she had to choose lovers, and enjoy them, and then felt the need to blush and demure every time intimacy was mentioned.

I love the secondary characters in the book almost as Tess and Ilya - especially Sonia, Kirrill and Yuri. They are all well-rounded, and I feel we get to know them quite well. In particular, the Chapalii are really interesting - so different and alien in the truest sense of the word, and I would like to get to know more about them in future books.

Yuri in particular struck an accord with me because of his kindness, humour and attempts at wisdom, but I think the author's insistence in stopping the action and then having Tess proclaim, rather cheesily, Yuri as he brother, distracting and unnecessary. Although by the laws of the jaran Yuri is certainly her brother, and Ilya her cousin, Ilya's being Tess' cousin is really only mentioned when she has to remind herself why emotional entanglement with him would be wrong. In other words, I am uncomfortable that Elliott felt the need to point out, so early in the novel, that Yuri wasn't going to be a love interest. The insinuation, I feel, is that men and women can't just be friends. This is challenged throughout the book, with Tess forming meaningful friendships with the jaran and not feeling the need to sleep with them, but I still wonder at how the 'Yuri is her brother' aspect is handled.

I was interested to note that after the initial adventure on a space-ship, the science fiction elements of the novel were played down. In fact, much of the book reads like fantasy, with the jaran on a long, epic journey across deserts to uncover ancient shrines and temples all Indiana Jones like. I also think that the balance between the romance in the book and the rest of the novel is handled well, and although there are strong romantic subplots, the politics, action and emotional aspects don't suffer.

A science fiction novel with amazing twists, Jaran has certainly hooked me for the rest of the series. Although this first book was initially published in 2002, the series is being re-released in 2013 as ebooks by Open Road Media, and you can bet I'll be getting the other three books! I'm keen to get to know Tess and Ilya better, so see the impact they have on the future of the Jaran, and to see what role they play in the inevitable rebellion against the Chapalli. I recommend this novel to fantasy and science fiction, because it really has something for everyone.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.
You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic. ( )
1 vote alcarinqa | Aug 17, 2013 |
...Jaran is a novel that promises a lot for the next volume in the series and offers a decent story arc of its own. That said, it is not a particularly demanding read. If you can let yourself be carried away by Tess' dramatic journey it is a very entertaining read. There is a deeper layer to the novel that I would not have minded seeing more of however. For a novel with a print length of almost five hundred pages, it makes very little progress in the political intrigue that is introduced. It is a very good adventure novel but demands patience from the reader who wants more than that. I can see myself reading the next volume in between some heavier reading.

Full Random Comments review ( )
  Valashain | Aug 17, 2013 |
Just as good third or fourth time around!

Ok! I have this and the rest of the Jaran series packed away in storage from the early 90's when I first discovered Kate Elliot. A longtime fan and interested (from the 70's) in reading as much as possible by female sci fi and fantasy writers, the chance to reread Jaran, to revisit a favourite, was just to good to be true.
Once again I really enjoyed Jaran. I love the characters of Terese Soerensen and Ilyakoria Bahktiian.
In many ways it is a young woman's search for her true self, after a painful relationship, that only increases her feelings of insecurity. Her search undertaken amongst compassionate strangers.
Despite her position in society as the heir to her brother's dukedom, Tess a is a young woman plagued with self doubts which hide her true courage and determination. A courage and singlemindedness that flourishes within this challenging culture, so different to her own.
A story of far flung empires, of alien domination, of resistance and intrigue, of finding love and meaning and an understanding of community and belonging, against all odds, in unexpected places. The story still zings even after so many years!

A NetGalley ARC ( )
  eyes.2c | Jul 31, 2013 |
Fun, genre-bending mix of sci-fi, fantasy, and romance.

We start with the sci-fi elements. Humanity has been conquered by a benevolent alien overlord, the Chapalii. Our heroine, Tess, is the much-younger sister of the only human being who matters to the new galactic empire, the only human to advance among their ranks. He achieved this status by leading a rebellion against the Chapalii.

Tess has grown up in her brother's shadow, aware that her actions reflect on him, that her life would be spent in his service, doing her duty by his lights. She admires her brother and wants to free humanity, but existing only as someone else's tool is fundamentally unsatisfying. Which is why, when the space ship she's traveling on makes an unscheduled stop, Tess thinks it's a good idea to just...disembark. To escape her life and her responsibilities. To take some personal time, as it were.

And that's how Tess ends up on Rhui, a planet that's been declared off-limits as a sort of anthropological experiment: preserve the natives! Accelerate development without destroying their culture! The inhabitants are human, but they've reached a stage of development that seems to be hovering somewhere around the renaissance. Tess' brother owns the planet, and she has real on-world status, but the spaceship drops her off in a vast, northern tundra, far from the cities she knows.

And the first people she meets are the Jaran. They're a fantasy equivalent to Mongols or Cossacks, nomadic, tent-dwelling people with Russian names and a matriarchal society very much divided by gender. Women rule, women own, and women stay with the tents. Men fight, and men roam.

The Jaran welcome Tess, who's been wandering alone in the cold for days. They feed her, clothe her, befriend her. Freed for the first time in her life from her brother's influence, Tess feels at home, free to be herself. And she has a job to do, too, since the Chapalii are posing as "pilgrims" who want to visit Jaran "holy sites". Tess schemes to accompany the Jaran as they escort the Chapalii on their pilgrimage, and in the process she finds herself frequently in the company of a charismatic warrior poised to unite all the Jaran tribes: Ilya.

The Jaran aren't much for sexual shame so Tess has the opportunity to hook up with other men while she's circling around Ilya, though there's never any question who she'll end up with. Ilya is driven and ambitious and he can tell that Tess knows more about the "pilgrims" than she lets on. So he's not initially inclined to fall head-over-heels for a secretive foreigner. Tess, for her part, hopes to dig up some dirt on the Chapalii before catching a spaceship home. Problems insurmountable, attraction undeniable.

So there's the sword-and-sorcery aspect, as Tess learns to use a saber and embarks on an epic journey across an unknown land. There's the sci-fi element, with technologically advanced and inscrutable alien overlords, and our lone heroine who must decipher their purpose in order to save all humanity. And the slow-burn romance with two strong people unwilling to admit their feelings to themselves or one another.

All in all, a pretty good read. I found a lot of the dialogue to be pretty stilted, and the writing is flatter and duller here than in the more recent Kate Elliot books I've read in her Spiritwalker trilogy. She has really grown as a writer. But the similarities were fascinating to me, as well -- Ilya and Andevai are very similar male leads, with their prodigious natural gifts and unabashed vanity, and both series feature heroines who value family bonds very highly and shoulder onerous duties in the name of loyalty.
( )
  MlleEhreen | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Kate Elliotprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burns,JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Bodies attract each other with a force that varies directly as the product of their masses and inversely as the square of the distance between them.
--Isaac Newton
For my parents, who made it all possible, and for Carol Wolf who, against all my protests, made me do it right.
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Dear Charles -- Please don't think I'm running away.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0756400953, Mass Market Paperback)

The first book in Kate Elliott's acclaimed Jaran series-the groundbreaking story of a young woman coming of age on an alien planet...and her effect on the human race's survival.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:12 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In the future, Earth is just one of the planets ruled by the vast Chapalii empire. The volatility of these alien overlords is something with which Tess Soerensen is all too familiar. Her brother, Charles, rebelled against them at one time and was rewarded by being elevated into their interstellar system--yet there is reason to believe they murdered his and Tess's parents.Struggling to find her place in the world and still mending a broken heart, Tess sneaks aboard a shuttle bound for Rhui, one of her brother's planets. On the ground, she joins up with the native Jaran people, becoming immersed in their nomadic society and customs while also attempting to get to the bottom of a smuggling scheme she encountered on her journey there. As she grows ever closer to the charismatic Jaran ruler, Ilya--who is inflamed by an urgent mission of his own--Tess must choose between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her brother.… (more)

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