Margaret Alton has returned to Darkover, serving her university mentor, Ivor Davidson, collecting songs from the planet. Although it is where she was born, Margaret has few memories of the place, and none with positive associations. Her father, Lew Alton, protagonist in The Sword of Aldones, is a reclusive drunkard who has little to do with his only daughter. Lew, Darkover's empire senator, lives on the planet Thetis with his wife and Margaret's stepmother, Diotoma Ridenow, also from Darkover.
It turns out that being kept in the dark about Darkover is not helpful for Margaret when she discovers she's nobility there and has psychic powers busting out all over the place, especially around her newfound family, some of whom are boorish monsters.
I'm still reading MZB with an eye toward the sexual abuse allegations made against her by her daughter. 20something Margaret discovers that her nearly-100 boss simultaneously confers adulthood and sexuality on (virgin) Margaret, and she is warmed by it. MZB also comments on democracy, which I content incest is not,
It was not a blink, unthinking loyalty, as she had first believed, but a profound pride in the form of rule represented by the Comyn and the Domains. No wonder the Terrans had not been successful in converting Darkover into another colony of the Empire. For reasons of its own, the Terran Empire had decided that participatory democracy was the only tenable form of freedom.
Interestingly Bradley addresses incest in Exile's Song and its follow-up, The Shadow Matrix. It's taboo. There is no intimacy allowed between men and a woman who is of an age to have been fathered by him. Except that it does happen all the time. Contradictions!
I like here, where a Darkovan calls Margaret/the Empire out for claiming innocence for acts they didn't commit themselves, but still benefit from.
"I am sad to hear that, but since I was not yet born, I can't see it has much to do with me. I can't be held responsible for something that occurred so long ago.
Gavin MacDonald gave a snort. "That is Terranan thinking, for sure. We in the hills have long memories, especially for that time."
It's hard to say if Margaret's selfishness toward her guide (read: servant) Rafaella is Darkovan or Terran, but though she claims close friendship with Rafaella, Margaret is ready to leave her behind when Rafaella is sick and when it's time for Rafaella to return to her own life, Margaret recognizes and loathes her selfishness for wanting Rafaella to stay. MZB is harder on Margaret, I think, than on others of her characters. She dedicates the book to un-bylined co-author Adrienne Martine-Barnes "who created the character Margaret Alton, and worked on this book with me." I wonder if her meanness toward Margaret is aimed at, or created by Martine-Barnes?
I just realized, Margaret is Margaret Meading Darkover. At one point, toward the end, even after it's become increasingly clear that the scholar's life isn't going to be hers again, or at least won't be for a long time, Margaret records a servant singing a lullaby. It's one of those situations where permission is granted, but not entirely of the grantor's free will. It's for the good of the Empire and all, but when it comes to Margaret's life, she resists the idea that her personal happiness is less important than that of the masses.
"I see. I am supposed to put my personal happiness aside for the sake of the planet?" Margaret was simmering with rage and rebellion now, feeling very much as she had during her adolescence.
Absorbing novel. I was glad to have checked out its successor so I had it handy to re-read right away.