Home Editing Writing

The Wages of Justice

by Kate Saundby

 ISBN 1-894841-01-8

Double Dragon eBooks

November 2001


A review of the first book in Kate Saundby's

award-winning Nublis Chronicles. Nublis:

a place where Fantasy meets SF and pol

a review by Ellen Larson

"You're now as blind as the justice you serve. Because you cannot see, you can no longer distinguish between rich and poor. And since all will stand equal before your court, you'll be able to judge them with perfect impartiality."

So goes the induction ceremony of the mysterious Archon, ultimate legal authority of the planet Nublis, the lively setting of Kate Saundby's The Julian Trilogy, of which Wages of Justice is the first book. Part science fiction, part social satire, and all romantic adventure, Saundby manages to provide something for everyone without sacrificing a clear unifying voice, a voice that is always, whatever else, out for fun.

Long ago (in a galaxy far, far way) the common-law marriage between those two literary outcasts, science fiction and swords-n-sorcery, was legitimized by the likes of LeGuin and --. Many have been the literary offspring of that union, vigorous hybrids (sub-genre Scientifica sorcoreum) recognizable by their mix of battering rams and blasters; ion propulsion and war horses, as if someone put the Star Trek customizable Card Game and the D&D paraphernalia into the same box and shook vigorously. Kate Saundby, in her first paperback appearance (three other Nublis books are available through Xlibris, and as e-books) makes cheerful use of these by now well-established conventions. On Nublis, gold pieces are jumbled with credit chips, brocade gowns are exchanged for tennis togs when the ball is over, secret passageways allow for mysterious disappearances below ground while interplanetary space vehicles do battle in the skies. In another identifying trait of the genre, made popular by Katharine Kurtz, the characters, however medieval their clothes sense, eschew heightened language and speak in a modern style currently found everywhere else in the English-speaking galaxy, from Xena to -- .

Saundby is more in the tradition of Kurtz than LeGuin. She does for the jurisprudential institution what Kurtz, in the Deryni series, did for the Catholic church--rip it up by the roots, expose its secret underpinnings, and then carry some of its most hallowed traditions to absurd lengths for the purpose of pointing out inherent flaws. But where Kurtz is heavy on the swords-n-sorcery, Saundby leans towards the science fiction end of the spectrum. She is both more humorous (where there is a major trial, there is the tabloid press), and more interested in social absurdities (remember the expression, judge, jury, and executioner?). Saundby holds no brief for tradition. She not only pokes fun at social morays, but digs in, probing at issues of truth v appearance, responsibility v excusability, damnation v redemption.

Needless to say, the Nublians, a likable people often miserably but always cheerfully trapped by their own legal and social traditions, get a good workout. Since Justice is the first book of a trilogy, we expect to be introduced to a cast of characters we can live with, and we are. Cassius, the Archon, fated to a life apart and suffering the serious side effects of his medically-induced powers, and his brother Julian, the Emperor, whose duty it is to fight off enemies within and without the palace, are both sympathetic and sufficiently heroic. Highly enjoyable from her first appearance in a ruby tiara and scandalously low-cut gown is the brothers' stepmother, the Dowager Duchess Irina (her middle name should be Livia) and her various henchmen, sons, and lovers. In fact, Saundby's villains are some of her strongest characters, and she runs the risk of disappointing her readers a touch by her tendency towards summary justice. The other ladies are pleasingly active, but lack the depth of the men and Irina; the ingenues have an annoying habit of carrying kittens wherever they go. Galia Alazne, the sultry press attache (someone has to proof the sound bites and do the polling) once involved with the emperor, is the most successful of the lot, and one suspects we will hear more of her in Book Two.

There are a few injudicious gaps in the plot. For example, I don't care how far out in the boonies Lady Corey lived, and how busy she was getting dressed for the wedding (it's the 20 foot train....), I know, beyond a reasonable doubt that, someone would have mentioned the er, unusual experiences facing her on her wedding night.

One of Saundby's strengths is that she is not above letting the sword of justice fall (swish, thud). By the end of the first chapter you'll know you'd better expect the unexpected. Saundy holds no brief for sentiment, despite the superabundance of palace romances (Piratical invader to his lieutenant: " With the amount of consensual sex around here, there's no need to be taking anyone by force." ). Well, what do you expect from a writer who spent a few decades as a local political activist, experiencing first hand the vagaries of party politics?

So, you've got your medieval palace intrigue, your futuristic medical marvels and space battles, and a delicious satire as well. As an added incentive, entwined around the sturdy action plot like a silver garland around a Douglas fir, is a delicately-handled fantasia of mysticism, which appears without warning but also without disruption, adding depth to the characters and to the world that Saundby has created and invited us to visit. Best of all, and regardless of the silly conventions of the genre(s), Saundby can write; her style is fast-paced but not rushed, clean but not barren. That tips the scales for me.