Distant Trails (Under Carico’s Moons #1) by Nan C. Ballard (Not A Pipe Publishing August 2022)
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The planet Carico is short on technology and long on wide-open spaces. When Seth Reilly returns home to Under Rim, it isn’t the peaceful village he remembers. Trouble is in the wind, and the new girl in town, Annalee, is at the heart of it. Seth and Annalee cross Jerdix, an outlaw who tortures Seth with a device prohibited throughout the Interstellar Coalition. Unable to cope, Seth flees to a lonely camp where he becomes obsessed with taming a horse as damaged as he is. Annalee follows, determined to help him. But Jerdix is still out there. Can Seth and Annalee survive Jerdix’ threat and find the help they both need to heal?
If you ever wanted to stay on one of the frontier worlds they visit on Firefly, then this may be the book for you. Carico is a habitable but not easy planet, a rugged landscape where human settlers eke out a living from mining and ranching the indigenous tarbh herds. While they have access to some tech, they prefer to make do with what they can produce themselves. They are an independent lot, not interested in the fashions and politics of the central planets. But powerful people may be interested in them.
Seth returns home to Under Rim reluctantly after a long absence that was meant to get him out of his father’s long shadow. He means to help his family temporarily while his sister completes a training program. Love begins to blossom when he meets Anni, a sweet young offworlder working in town. But there’s more to Anni (if that is her name) than meets the eye—she’s an undercover operative investigating a local businessman. Their budding romance is cut short by trauma. They try to help each other through it, but will love be enough?
I very much enjoyed spending time on this stark world, similar to Earth but with significant differences in flora and fauna. Humans and horses are the imports, with the bond between them lovingly drawn. The main characters are fully developed people with interesting talents, sympathetic weaknesses, and great chemistry. Their trauma responses are realistic and heartbreaking, something it was easy to imagine could break up a new relationship. A varied cast of side characters populates the story with just enough other voices to feel real.
Full disclosure: It was an honor to edit this book and the rest of the Under Carico’s Moons trilogy.