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Five-Twelfths of Heaven Paperback – April 1, 1985
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The universe of Five-Twelfths is a fairly standard one in some ways. The Hegemon, a widening empire of many planets, is a tightly-controlled, autocratic society that places extreme limits on women; women must be veiled at all times, aren't allowed to own property or take legal actions, etc. However, the fantasy element comes in with the elements of star travel, which are much like magic, and especially the magi, who are able to use spells to control both Purgatory (the celestial, partially supermaterial state attainable by material creatures) and Hell (the submaterial state). The blending of the typical SF and unusual fantasy elements make this world a unique and complete creation, interesting in its own right.
The plot is also fairly good. Five-Twelfths is the story of Silence, a woman in the very male-restricted profession of pilot. Caught up in circumstances beyond her control, she makes an unusual alliance, finds herself pitted against the Hegemony, and discovers that she has powers in excess of anything anyone expected.
All in all, a satisfying read and much more interesting than is usual in science fantasy blends. Scott makes the most of her talents in this book - pity it's out of print, but many libraries will have a copy.
(NB: Five-Twelfths of Heaven is the first in a trilogy - the sequels are Silence in Solitude and The Empress of Earth - that should definitely be read in order.)
The act of space travel is explored here in a way that is rarely seen in sci-fi. Most franchises tend to just have a captain say "Bring me that horizon" and the ship goes. This novel makes it a more mechanical process, like the ancient mariners checking their sextants and gauging the winds before setting sail.
Parts of the story involving the ship, cargo, the crew, pirates, etc, reminded me of Firefly, but this novel was written fifteen years before the pilot of that show aired. So technically Firefly is reminiscent of THIS, but the entire book is a beautifully-formed creature all of its own.
Very glad this trilogy is being released in Kindle editions. It deserves a place among the pantheon of great speculative fiction.
Review: The book took me a while to get into. The plot starts slow, but picks up quickly, and becomes richer and more engaging as the book progresses. Silence Leigh is an interesting character set in an complex world. Most of her world is controlled by a Hegemony, a social system where women are little more than slaves, without rights or power. Into the system comes Silence, who was raised in the Fringe by a grandfather who supported her desire to be a star ship pilot - something unheard of in the Hegemony. In the end, events force her into a marriage of convenience with two men - yes, a triple marriage. The author, Scott, is apparently known for the gender-bending sexuality of her novels. Since this is my first Scott, I can't speak to more of that.
The most interesting part of the Scott's world building is space flight. It took me until nearly the end of the book to figure out the details, but once I did, I find the system fascinating. To fly by music, literally, is creative and intriguing. And then to add it the concept of magus, and their abilities to bend or manipulate reality. It almost has a Star Wars feel - magic and machine, technology and fantasy blended.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how modern it felt - being that is was published in 1985, I expect some dated references but they're weren't any that I could detect. No gold-lamé jumpsuits or green bulbous aliens or laser swords. Scott did an excellent job of creating logical technology and systems that give the story a credible feel.
In the end, while this book isn't a stay-up-into-the-wee-smaws sort of story, I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the next two.