the Little Red Reviewer

Skeen’s Leap, by Jo Clayton

Posted on: July 21, 2012

Skeen’s Leap, by Jo Clayton

published in 1986

where I got it: purchased used

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On the run from the law (what else is new), and left behind by her beloved ship and her now ex- boyfriend, Skeen knows she’s in trouble. With the clothes on her back and the coins in her pocket, how is she going to get off this dusty backwater planet? How is she going to track down her ship and tell that man where he can stick it? To do that she’ll need money, and do that she’ll do what she’s best at: thievery, smuggling, ruin raiding, and selling what she finds.

On the unreliable rumors of a drug addict she follows his directions to an untouched alien ruin, supposedly laden with gems and trinkets the likes of which this corner of the galaxy has never seen. She walks through the gate he described, and into somewhere else. Thus begins the story of Skeen’s Leap, which follows our titular heroine as she steals, cons, talks, seduces, and otherwise convinces people give her what she wants so she can get where she’s going.

Skeen finds herself on a completely different planet. Befriending the first woman she meets, Telka, Skeen learns this is the planet Kildun Aalda, which over the eons was colonized and invaded by massive groups (called Waves) that came through the gates. Telka is of the Min, one of the ancient races of the planet, and they are shapeshifters. The only race who knows how the gates work are their creators, the Ykx. If Skeen wants to get home, she’s going to have to bargain as she can, and find those few remaining Ykx.

After some melodramatic silliness, Skeen finds herself volunteered to rescue Telka’s sister Timka, who is a local priestess and had been kidnapped to the city. This will be Skeen’s first lesson in “don’t trust anyone.”

Skeen finds Timka, and learns that she’s very happy living in the city and has no interest in going back to her dusty backwards village. When Skeen tells Timka she is looking for the lost races of the Ykx, Timka practically begs to go with her, simply to avoid going home. And this time, Timka’s shapeshifting abilities are to Skeen’s benefit.

As Skeen collects more information about the Ykx, she seems to collect more companions as well. Everytime she meets a bureaucrat or a local leader, or someone who has a scrap of helpful rumors, the person always seems to say “If you are headed such and such direction, take my son/daughter/servant/associate with you”, or even “sounds like a great adventure, I’m coming too!”, turning the story into an almost spoof of the adventure ensemble quests that were so popular in the leading up to this books publication. It really does get quite funny at times, with the lone-wolf Skeen thrown into the role of adviser, mother, team leader and general Person Who Seems To Know What’s Going On.

Clayton is pulling of a neat literary hat trick as she flips (mid sentence!) sometimes between two different omniscent points of view, and Skeen’s inner monologue. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does, to comedic effect. The chapter titles are from a snarky narrators point of view, and often insult Skeen’s decisions. Her inner monologue shows up here and there, mostly berating herself for trusting her ex-boyfriend,  and wondering who in her traveling party might make a nice bed partner. She might be on an alien planet, surrounded by strangers, but hey, woman has needs!

Her plan to find the Ykx, find their gate, and get home and away from all these crazy people. Doesn’t matter if she has some romantic flings here and there, she’ll never see any of these people again once she finds the Ykx, right? Little does she know that most of them have already decided to go through the gate with her.

My favorite part of the book was Clayton’s alien races. Mostly humanoid, every race on Kildun Aalda has a completely unique racial identity, cultures, and relationships with the other groups on the planet. Tinka’s race, the Min, and especially the over isolated mountain-Min are highly distrustful of all non-Min. The Aggitj youths seem to bond to an adult and follow them everywhere, there is also a matriarchal insectosoid race, races who hunt Min for sport, a city that is so obsessed with it’s local university that no one cares what race you are if you come to learn, and of course, the elusive Ykx, among other groups.

The only thing that didn’t blow my mind about this book, unfortunately, was Skeen herself. She’s an interesting character, but I feel like it’s expected that I already know about her. When it came to the characterization of the main character, Skeen’s Leap felt more like a 2nd or 3rd book in a series, rather than the first. But I’m sure all my questions about her are answered in other books in this fun little series. Nevertheless, if you enjoy well developed alien races, humorous social situations (ok, humorous because they are awkward for the parties involved), and planetary adventure, Skeen’s Leap will reward you. Also, cover art that transcends ridiculousness into the realm of complete awesomness. Jo Clayton wrote over thirty books, so even if I don’t continue in this series, I expect I’ll still get to enjoy her humorous style in her other titles.

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5 Responses to "Skeen’s Leap, by Jo Clayton"

Hahaha! “After some melodramatic silliness, [...]“. That describes so much of so many books I’ve read.

Your review is the first I’ve heard of this book. I’ve added it to my (excessively long) list of books to read.

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what makes it even funnier, is to the natives, all this ceremonial stuff is of the utmost importance. But Skeen finds it boring and silly, she just want to find out the terms of the job.

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Both you and lady Darkcargo enjoyed this book, so I guess I better dig out my copy sooner rather than later.

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yes yes! you need to join the Skeen club! :D

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I really want to read Jo Clayton… One day!

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