Please note that there shall be major spoilers for the first book in the series, Stardoc. If you haven’t read it and are interested in checking it out, proceed cautiously. I have limited the mention of spoilers for this book specifically. Thank you.
Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl is the second book in the author’s science-fiction adventure series, Stardoc. After she discovers the truth surrounding her birth, and being denied Sentient Status on the planet K-2, Dr Cherijo Grey finds herself on the run from the Human League, along with her late husband’s entire clan after they volunteered to offer her refuge and sanctuary as one of their own. Now aboard the Jorenian vessel, Sunlance, she travels with them to their home world while evading bounty hunters, mercenaries, and the incredible depth of power that her father, Dr Grey Veil, is wielding to retrieve his greatest scientific experiment.
With the exception of one very specific scene/circumstance, I thoroughly enjoyed Stardoc with its hefty use of scientific and medical jargon, the diversity of alien lifeforms, and the interesting premise that drove the story onwards. With Beyond Varallan, the awesome implementation of sciences and surgery shenanigans continue but with a greater sense of adventure as it takes places mostly on a gigantic ship rather than a single stagnant planet.
There are three new elements that Beyond Varallan adds to the series that has worked in holding my interest unto the end. It’s care at introducing new characters and the rapport they form with Cherijo, planet hopping, and its awesome unpredictability.
Seeing Cherijo being embraced so wholeheartedly by her late husband’s kin was a marvellously comforting aspect. I wasn’t sure how she would respond to having to live with an alien community, but the family dynamics that she forms with them was one of my favourite things to read about. She’s also really fantastic with children. I feel like she’d make a lovely mother if she ever gets a chance to have/adopt children of her own.
There are some conflicts that arise with regard to the interpersonal relations she has with male characters. Sometimes it was annoying, yet overall it added a bit of tension and helped with the friendships she formulates later on, so I didn’t mind it too much.
Along their journey, they make a couple stops at some planets. One of them was to offer emergency assistance to a population that had been brutally decimated by a violent and ruthless race of beings and the second was to drop off an unexpected passenger. I enjoyed these because it added a great change of scenery and ambiance from the ship, and the cultures of the two planets were significantly different from one another in ways that actually felt real. It was almost as if the author was writing from personal experiences, which is a cool writing trait in sci-fi that I always appreciate on a deeper level.
The last bit that took me surprise (pun mildly intended) is the unpredictable nature of the plot. Every time I braced myself for whatever was to happen next, I was left with my mouth gaping open as it ended up being a twist I really couldn’t predict. The beauty of these twists is how nonchalantly they’re offered up, leaving the impact of their slap, so to speak, to resonate slowly into a burn of shock as the consequences start to unfold and deepen, especially with the events that took place in the last few pages. Ever since I wrapped up this novel, I have been both supremely anticipating the next instalment, yet hesitant at the intensity of what’s to come (let’s just say that it’s headed in some mighty dark places).
Regardless of the elements that I enjoyed, there are a few things that some readers may find to be off-putting. One of them is the slow-paced manner of the narrative’s progression. The story isn’t only about Cherijo, it’s also about the people who are shielding her and what it means to them when they accept an outsider into their clan and family. It’s also about galactic politics as it relates to scientific advancement and anti-alien propaganda. Then there’s the complexities of a father-daughter relationship that is built upon decades of lies. Lastly, the fallacies of placing trust in individuals that one really knows nothing about beyond the scope of assistance provided in times of need. All of these elements come together to make a tale that can feel like it’s taking forever to “get to the point.” However, the little details and the subplots, side characters, and seemingly inconsequential stuff is what gives the series so much dimension and is what makes it so enjoyable for me. Even so, I can understand how it can be tedious for others.
The second thing that some folx may not like is how often Cherijo seems to get physically assaulted and the times when there are attempts of sexual assault on her. In the first novel, Stardoc, there is a graphic depiction of a rape scene that felt really unnecessary and out of place. Given that history, the choice to add scenes where our leading lady is non-consensually felt up and groped was a supremely unwise one. It makes me wonder if the author has some kind of fantasy with regard to rape or if she feels the only way to inflict believable violence/torture upon a woman are ways that involve sexual exploitation. Either way, while these scenes aren’t as disturbing or as intensely graphic as they are in the preceding novel, they’re still an issue here.
Beyond those two very specific elements, the rest of the book was great for what it was. I do plan on continuing my journey with the Stardoc series, but I’m going to take a small break from it for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to burnout by reading it continuously, and secondly, I need to step away from some of the more heavier content triggers for the time being.
Overall, I recommend Beyond Varallan to anyone who is searching for an excellent science-fiction adventure series that can be a tad bit cheesy due to its age, and that also has an abundance of alien beings and interactions. Folx that like complex sciences, particularly as they relate to physiology may also get a kick out of it. But the series is far from perfect, and thus isn’t for everyone as the topics can become pretty amplified in their disturbing nature; something to keep in mind.
Publication Date: July 2000
Publisher: Roc (ISBN: 0451457935)
Genre: Science-Fiction, Galactic Adventure
Page Count: 407
Content Warnings: Mass death and genocide. Domestic violence. Sexual molestation. Attempted rape. Child endangerment. Detailed descriptions of surgeries and other medical procedures. Non-consensual use of substances. Scene of forced feeding. Imprisonment. Death of loves ones. Murder. Death and near-deaths of children. Death via fire. Preparation and consumption of food. Disloyalty. Homophobia. Mild cursing. Gaslighting. Xenophobia. Sexism. Bullying.
GoodReads: Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl