Hellflower (book 1), by Eluki bes Shahar

Eluki bes Shahar is the legal name of Rosemary Edghill; apparently a long-ago publisher suggested that the name was insufficiently English-sounding, mycoplasmosis so most of what she publishes is under the pseudonym. Under that name, she writes romance novels (mostly Regencies), detective fiction (a series about a Wiccan detective named Bast), and fantasy (the Twelve Treasures series, of which only three were published), as well as collaborations with Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton, among others. Under Eluki bes Shahar, she writes science fiction, apparently. This is the first of a trilogy, expanded her first published short story, and published in the early 1990s. It appears to be out of print.

Butterfly St. Cyr — actually named Saint Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere — is a stardancer darktrader, or a smuggler starship captain. While making a deal, she unfortunately manages to get involved with a fight between some other darktrader-types and a hellflower — a member of the alMayne family of honor-bound mercenaries who command a significant amount of political and financial capital. The hellflower, unfortunately, turns into a bad penny, and she gets into all sorts of trouble — which, of course, she can’t deal with, being that not only is she an illegal immigrant from an Interdicted World, but she owns a Library — an AI that is completely prohibited by the Imperial law. Will she survive, and what about the hellflower?

The book is written sort of from two different points of view. The majority of the story is told in first person from Butterfly’s point of view, and she thinks and speaks in the slang of her time, peppered with words that are sort of Spanish and French. Butterfly can speak three main dialects, of which Interphon is the standard language and the one she speaks the least well. Mostly we hear what she calls ‘patwa,’ or what we would call patois — a mishmash of different languages, jargon, and colloquialisms. Fortunately, it’s quite readable, but it takes a moment to get used to, the same way that Cockney and Scottish accents and dialect do. There are also interludes from the point of view of the Library, who is named Paladin, and he thinks and speaks in very correct English, to the point of occasional scientific exactitude. It’s rather refreshing.

Butterfly’s time is far enough in the future that human beings from different planets have differentiated at least slightly into different races. The alMayne ‘hellflower’ character is thirty-something alMayne years, which is 14 standard years, and at that age he is (I believe) legally and physically an adult. Butterfly is rather much older — she says that she’s more than halfway through her alloted years, according to her race, which made me assume she was in her late thirties. In addition to differences between human races, there are the nonhuman characters (Butterfly calls them ‘wigglies’) which vary from fur-covered to various things that current humans would call ‘aliens’ (more bug-like).

There’s a lot of backstory that is merely alluded to; at some point in the past, Earth-type humans apparently declared all women nonsentient creatures to keep them ‘safe’ from being contaminated with radiation that might harm their breeding capacity. There were also various technological wars, and then a time when groups of planets decided to pay the Empire a lot of money to be left alone. At 260-ish pages, there’s no way that Ms. Shahar had enough time to get into all the implications of this. However, it’s the first book in a trilogy, and there are many pages left to explore this quite-interesting world that she created. I found Butterfly engaging enough that I will confidently dive into the next volume (which, fortunately, I already own). 4/5 stars.

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