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A Matter of Oaths

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  330 ratings  ·  106 reviews
Commander Rallya of patrolship Bhattya thought she had a talent for making enemies--until she met Rafe. For no crime on his record, the young officer had been identity wiped, and his innumerable, now-forgotten enemies were still tracking him across the galaxy.
Paperback, 234 pages
Published July 1st 1990 by Questar (first published October 1988)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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K.J. Charles
What a fabulous read. A space opera with a twisty SF based plot and loads of heart. Exciting and engaging--the worldbuilding isn't spoon fed so it takes a bit of time to get to grips but all becomes clear soon enough.

It's the cast that does it for me. The three MCs are two men in a queer relationship, one of them bi, and the commander who is not only a woman of colour but pushing retirement age with a dodgy hip. Fffff. When the hell do you see that in a MC? *And* she isn't a Wise Mentor charact
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read
Don't let the age (or outdated cover, if your version has that) of this one fool you. Originally published in 1988, A Matter of Oaths truly deserved the resurrection and republication (with a much better cover) that it got nearly 30 years later in 2017.

The writing has a modern feel to it that keeps it from feeling dated. The straightforward and issue-free incorporation of various genders, sexualities, and skin colours reminded me of writers like Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers, who write stories w
Sherwood Smith
Oct 05, 2014 added it
Shelves: sf
Read this thoroughly enjoyable space opera on a very long train ride. From the beginning, when the chief officers of the Bhattya look for a new candidate and consider Rafe, a highly talented young webber (this is cybertech that borders on telepathy) but whose identity was wiped for betraying the Oath, the story grabbed me.

The world building is a bit fuzzy--so much crammed in that is not explained--but the story itself rockets along, with a wonderfully diverse set of characters. Rafe proves himse
I just really freaking love a good, well-balanced space opera - interesting characters, creative spaceship "science", some politics, some fighting... A Matter of Oaths is another shining example of the genre, with the bonus of a wonderfully diverse cast and queer characters without any homophobia (or sexism, for that matter). The process of webbing is another hand-wavy but pleasingly fantastical method of piloting a spaceship/FTL travel, and I have to admit I prefer this type of bordering-on-mag ...more
There's little sign of this being a thirty-year old book. It's diverse, interesting and completely avoids most of the things that unavoidably date science fiction to the time it was written.

Rallya is the Commander of a patrol ship and a member of the Guild of Webbers. The Guild maintains Oaths equally to both the old and new Empires who are at war with each other. The Emperors each have their own Oaths with the Webbers and it's a system that mostly works. When Rallya takes on a memory-wiped Rafe
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r2019, scifi, lgbt, stars-4-0

A Matter of Oaths was originally published in 1988, disappeared from sight, and was finally brought back to us in 2017, with a proper cover (no more whitewashing) and a brilliant introduction from Becky Chambers, which is how I found it. For an 'older' novel, it does feel very modern, at turns a space opera with conflicting politics, but mostly focusing on the characters and their interactions.

Wright’s world is diverse and inclusive, where people’s gender, colouring or sexuality, don’t need
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Throughout reading this, there were basically two major thoughts in my mind: one, why didn’t I read this sooner? And two: fans of Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers are probably the ideal audience (and maybe fans of Yoon Ha Lee, as well). And hurrah! It’s been republished recently, so it’s out there and ready to be picked up by just those people. I can’t quite put my finger on all of the things that reminded me of those authors, but nonetheless, remind me it did (without them being in any way derivat ...more
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were many things I liked about this novel that, while published many years ago, doesn’t have that stale, unpleasant feeling that some older genre books can achieve:
-An actual older woman in charge of a ship, and who wasn’t simply someone’s grandmother. Rallya’s prickly and strategic and mischievous and stubborn, and also reminded me of C.J. Cherryh’s Ilsidi (my favourite character in her “Foreigner” series.)
-A person of colour main character, Rafe, is central to the action.
-An adult, respe
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Rae
Shelves: fiction, scifi, homoerotic
First published in 1988, ‘A Matter of Oaths’ reads like a precursor to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogies. All three are military sci-fi in the same way that Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin Series are military historical; they’re set on ships but the plots are centred upon the crew. ‘A Matter of Oaths’ begins with a ship taking on a new officer with a mysterious, not to say opaque, past. Rafe has had his identity wiped for oath-breaking, yet his pre ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ok, first: IGNORE THE COVER. No, seriously just ignore that nonsensical, awful, whitewashed abomination, (unless the default art goodreads displays at some point gets swapped to the 2018 cover, which is actually quite nice and you can feel free to not ignore it).

Now that that's out of the way, I can tell you that this is a tremendously entertaining book. It was a quick read, and surprisingly easy too. One of those books you gulp down in a few sittings. There's a patrolship and it needs a new web
3.5 stars - The first half is terrific, but the second half is a verbose, confusing mess, and abandons the Hero Rallya. Wright has talent, and I'm not sure what went wrong in 1987 for her. She had great promise, and is an enigma today, sadly. I wish she had tried again on a second and third book.

Note: Wow. Introduction by Becky Chambers!

As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you.

Helen S. Wright has been an enigma for years now, but is writ
I found this book on a recommendations list for people who like space opera in the manner of Bujold or Cherryh, and downloaded it immediately when I found out it was available on the author's website for free. I am really, really happy I found it.

It's a space opera set in a future where two empires are locked in war. Their ships, though, are piloted by the same people -- all members of the Guild. The Guild members are loyal to each other and the Guild above all else, and that includes imperial l
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This one seriously surprised me. I bought it on a whim, because sometimes I'm weak for old-ish books with praise from author's whose works have been on my "favorite books of all time list" for years on the cover (otherwise I don't care about that part of promotion at all).
Then I was in a reading slump and thought this one was short, so I might as well try it and for the first few pages it was just a comfortable read, but nothing special... and then I got invested. Now I'm actually super sad that
Bogi Takács
Review coming soonish in QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics. I liked this book! Fun space opera, and it shows that the author knows about control systems. (YES PLEASE)
Source of the book: Bought with my own money (Publisher didn't respond to review copy request)
David Harris
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of this book.

A Matter of Oaths was, as the preface by Becky Chambers (The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit) makes clear in an interesting introduction first published in 1988 but seems to have gone relatively unnoticed then. Bloomsbury Caravel have now rescued it from obscurity and republished it.

The book certainly deserves that second chance, for at least two reasons.

First, we are endlessly told that women writing SF
This is a fascinating book as a historical artifact and fairly readable book as a book, so I hope I can tease out the differences.

As a book itself: The ship Bhattya needs a first officer, and when Rafe presents himself, he seems a very attractive prospect until Commander Rallya learns he has been mind-wiped; the punishment for an oath-breaker, which doesn't speak well for his character. Eventually, Rallya is persuaded to accept him onto her ship anyway; he's forthright about his history, and if
Fun space opera with a lovely queer romance and interesting characters. I especially liked the aging but forceful female commander, the highly principled webmaster, and the amnesiac oathbreaker. The ebook is available for free on the author's website; if any of the above piques your interest, why not grab the book and check it out for yourself? [ETA: The book has since been republished and is no longer available for free.]

Enjoyable as it is, it does have some pretty big flaws. The worldbuilding
Katherine Hunter
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I am disappointed that this is the only science fiction that Ms. Wright wrote. You are not spoon fed everything. There is background that needs to be inferred. Great world-building. It is the story of Rafe and his struggle to recall his life before a mind-wipe and why others want to make sure he never remembers. He finds a place for himself and works to build his life. There are solid supporting characters and realistic relationships. I thought it was a great book and would have been delighted t ...more
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright sounds like an interesting read and the blurb from the back cover seemed particularly engaging, but the writing style and poor world-building kept me from enjoying it.
The best way to describe the writing style is vague. The world-building is poor. The guild, the emperors, and the concept of the web are not clearly explained. The poor world-building compounded with the vague writing style makes for a story that isn't easy to engage with fully. There was no spa
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arcs
A Matter of Oaths captured my attention for two reasons. One, it was described as a diverse space opera. The story features a gay person of colour and an older woman as Commander. And two, Becky Chambers wrote the introduction.

A Matter of Oaths has a lot going for it, but the writing style and poor world building kept me from fully engaging in the story.
The best way to describe the writing style is vague. It feels as if there's a glass barrier between the story and the reader. This barrier let
Jun 30, 2015 rated it did not like it
I really can't remember why I chose to pick this up. I think I was in a hankering for some space opera. And the blurb of this book seemed particularly engaging. A mysterious character with a hidden past, space ships, a sharp female Commander, an interesting system to connect to the "web" in space.

Unfortunately, this gets 1.5 stars from me despite the very interesting start. Oh, let me tell you - the start was great. It opens with a decidedly clever character, Commander Rallya, with her barbed to
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, this. First published in 1988, it’s gained a sort of cult status amongst fans as a book that champions the best of science fiction: LGBT relationships, excitement, a fair dollop of invention and innovation, and a gripping lot. And space.
It doesn’t pull its punches, though, dropping you straight into the story without any explanation, leaving you to struggle and pick up the pieces as you go along- especially when it comes to getting to grips with the concepts and slang at han
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review-copies
In theory I’ve read this before; in practice I only remembered one detail so I came to it fairly fresh... and I enjoyed every minute. Well-paced cyberpunk space opera driven by characters and emotions. I enjoy grouchy old Commander Rallya enormously (it took me most of the book to realise she reminds me of Avasarala, only without the swearing) and warm-hearted, conscientious cinnamon rolls Joshim and Rafe.

I’d really love to see a sequel. But really really.

Full review

I have both a free review cop
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
The patrolship Bhattya is looking for a new member of staff, and Rafe appears to be the man for the job. But then rumour reaches them that he has been mind-wiped for Oath-breaking. A terrible crime, because the Oaths between the Emperors and the Guild are all that holds some measure of peace and stability in place.

But Commander Rallya is persuaded to take him on after he demonstrates his extraordinary skill at “webbing”, which is a sort of virtual reality way of running a spaceship. And once he
Abi Walton
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an incredible read! I was recommended this book by my local bookstore and knew it was right for me when she compared it to Yoon Ha Lee. It was very similar in many of the best ways.
A Space opera that is exciting and engaging and the world building is given to you slightly so that it takes a while for you to understand everything which kept me intrigued.
It is the characters that I loved the most about this novel. Our main MC's are two men in a relationship and the head of the ship a woman
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was wonderful: well-written, interesting and suspenseful. The only reason I did not give it a five is because the world-building isn't done well enough at the beginning that it isn't ridiculously confusing exactly what is going on and what being an "oath breaker" means. And why the emperors are immortal. ...more
I loved the characters of this novel (especially the irascible Rallya!), the queer romance, the plotting and the scifi.

Rafe, the amnesiac quasi-ingenu with a mysterious past, could have become a stereotype in another writer’s hands, but Wright makes him very human. The other main characters—the ship Bhattya’s officers (or Three), Rallya, Vidar and Joshim—have a rapport that shows clearly the decades they’ve worked together.

In terms of tech, the webbers’ immersion into the web, with their artific
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
Too much political intrigue for me. I kept putting it down and being reluctant to pick it up, and then being confused when I did (cast of characters etc. would help *a lot*.)

The definition of 'near-human' eluded me for too long. I thought it meant 'almost' but apparently it means 'super' human. And the rest of the characters are almost all ordinary humans, except for the two immortals, and I have no idea what's up with them. This world is not built in my mind; I caught only glimpses.

And what hap
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quite a good book, with a surprisingly modern feel for something written in the eighties.
One of the main characters is an older woman who is a commander of a space ship. Several others are gay men. That isn't a common thing in SF even now. On top of that, it's well done. The book is not about diversity, but it has a diverse backdrop.
The personalities are great, and interact nicely. There is a clear feeling of family and loyalty aboard the ship, which I always enjoy.
I liked the story and techn
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully crafted world and a complex intruiging story. Greatly enjoyed the whole ride through this. Nice work with the power plays and loved reading about the webbers.
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Helen S. Wright is a British author, born in Birmingham in 1958. She attended King Edward VI High School for Girls and then studied physics at Imperial College, London before going on to work over a thirty-year period in a wide variety of Information Technology roles in the electricity generation and supply industry. Her first novel, A Matter of Oaths, originally published in 1988, has been revive ...more

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“She gave Joshim an inquisitive look. “Never knew Webmasters had to come in through the back door like the rest of us.” “We do if we want a quiet sight of the vacancy lists before Personnel hear we’re looking,” Joshim said easily. “Webmaster and Commander. Old Empire. Heard of anything?” 0 likes
“Yes, ma’am.” “You’re the only person I know who can pack quite so much disrespect into that word,” Rallya accused him. “I try, ma’am.” 0 likes
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