Laura Joh Rowland's The Concubine Tattoo (25) is a lush, superbly detailed tapestry of 17th century Japan, but the characters spoil the picture for me. Her "detective", Sano, is a deeply flawed character, constantly haunted by fears that he will be dishonored and disgraced. His inner turmoil even threatens to ruin his marriage to his headstrong, independent bride. The graphic sex is over the top, even though Rowland is making the point that flirting and sex are the power tools of the claustrophobic royal court. The plight of the women as simply conveniences to the men and their lack of a voice in their own destinies is clearly brought out.
I don't know where I got Laura J. Mixon's Omni Astropilots, (26) probably some giant box lot from ebay, but it is extremely strange. It is a Scholastic book, so I'm assuming it's a young adult novel. The plot revolves around an outer space military school, where you graduate at seventeen, and apparently, once you become a senior, you're able to rule over all the other students, even to expelling them. The first few chapters of the book try to introduce you to the "mod" slang of the school: "candies" for candidates, "chilling down" for hanging out, "strip your wires" for going nuts, etc. It's a little ham-fisted and clunky, right down to the Red Dawn ending of the students taking over the school so the megalomanical head master won't destroy the peace conference and bring war to the solar system. It was published in 1987, and some words hint at a British source : "the sun was the size of a half-pound coin"....in 2106, they know what that was???