Angel at Apogee by S N Lewitt

Berkley, 1987, 221 p.

 Angel at Apogee cover

Gaelian is the eldest of the eldest of the YnTourne family and thus in line to inherit all its privileges, including a seat on the board which runs life on Dinoreos and its dependencies, Adedri and Cahaute. She is also the hottest graduate of her military flying school; the only one always able to land her spaceship on a dit. This last is whence her nickname, Angel, derives. Dinoreos is a thoroughthly class-ridden polity trained up on and bound by the pastime of nerris, a combat sport once a deadly endeavour but now mainly ceremonial. All aspects of Dinorean life are threaded through with the tactics of nerris. As part of Gaelian’s inheritance, for dynastic and political reasons she is engaged to Teazerin YnSetti, an adept in the sporting aspects of nerris.

However, Gaelian spent most of her early life on Cahaute, where her father had been sent on diplomatic business. This, along with her appearance, has led to suspicions she is not wholly aristocratic, that her mother may have been one of Cahaute’s natives. Her father has always warned her to stand up for her rights and to assert that any genetic test would be passed easily. Gaelian knows the truth though and still feels the influence of Cahaute’s Power Clans within her. Her father’s conscience has led to him becoming a drunkard, both unsuitable and unwilling to take over as Head of household when Gaelian’s grandmother dies. The setting is here for a power struggle between Gaelian and her cousin Dobrin, eager to take on the leadership role himself, and who knows he has the Board’s backing, with the possibility of Gaelian’s background being exposed.

To her credit and much more interestingly, Lewitt takes a different tack though. The inheritance crisis is soon upon Gaelian but due to Dobrin’s honourable behaviour and her realisation that her primary wish is to be a pilot she agrees to stand down in his favour (with the proviso that her engagement to Teazerin is dissolved.) Even here we could have ended up with a standard military SF type plot but on her very first real mission (to Adedri) Gaelian’s ship is outpaced and out-manœuvred and she disappears, presumed dead.

On occasion up to then we have been given snippets of life on Cahaute and its belief systems (which seem very much to be derived from Native American customs.) Attention now focuses mainly on the situation on Cahaute, to where Teazerin has been posted and where he exerts a large degree of influence on the base and its actions, and the plans of Gaelian’s captor, Nomis, on Adedri, while occasionally switching back to machinations on Dinoreos. The wisdom and knowledge of the Power Clans are crucial to the unfolding of the subsequent events on Cahaute. In keeping with the preceding chapters the plot’s resolution is also very much against the usual run of SF novels.

Pedant’s corner:- “to betroth her” (betrothe.) “None of them were in use” (None of them was in use.) “He didn’t try follow it” (to follow it,) a pair of end direct speech marks without a preceding opening pair, publically (publicly,) “as she tried to lay down” (lie down,) “did not enter the ledge” (the lodge.)

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  1. Ian Sales

    I’ve always rated this novel, and even searched out everything else Lewitt wrote after reading it back in the 1990s. She had a tendency to base her stories around well-used tropes, but would always do something slightly off-piste with them. Sadly, she hasn’t written anything for the last twenty years.

  2. jackdeighton

    Ian,
    Slightly off-piste describes Angel at Apogee quite well.
    I’ll be looking out for more from her.

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