A Brilliant 10 for “Linesman” – Revisiting Ean Lambert’s Singing in the Novel by S.K. Dunstall

by Sharon Browning

S. K. Dunstall*
Ace Books
Release Date:  June 30, 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-27952-6

The Best Books are Timeless. Is Linesman?

For this LitStack Rec, we’re revisiting our 2015 review of Linesman, a novel by S.K. Dunstall. Now and then, LitStack revisits a book we found promising when it was released. Has the book held up over time? Are there other books in the series? What other books has the author recently published? We’ll help you find a book that may be languishing in your TBR list, or we’ll clue you into a book you’ve not heard about but will be happy to get to know. This happens so often because you have so many books to choose from. Rely on LitStack to help you find what you should read.

Originally published in 2015, Dunstall’s book is still popular, has a strong following, and has gotten even better in its short lifetime. You’ll be glad to know that Dunstall has written two more books in the series, both Alliance (book 2) and Confluence (book 3).

It’s LitStack’s Rec that you be sure and pick up all three books in the series. You’ll race through these page turners.

You Need to Get One of Those Tens!

In Dunstall’s novel, (the first in the series), the linesmen are rock stars. They have an inborn ability, identified at a young age and honed over years of training, to work with the lines of energy that regulate the inner workings of the ships that transverse space. Only linesmen can work with lines that are broken or out of sync, and only linesmen can straighten tangled lines. Linesmen are the celebrity mechanics of the mysterious energies that make space travel possible.

There are ten known lines associated with space crafts—the lines gleaned from enigmatic alien technology—each with their own specific purpose (although the purpose of some lines remains a mystery). Not all linesmen can work every line; a linesman attains their rank depending on how many levels of lines they can interact with. Tens are rare, and afforded immediate respect and even deference, allowing tens a social status that breeds egoism. A contract with a ten is highly prized by the powerful cartels, for the cartel with the most tens in its cadre controls space travel between worlds, and therefore holds dominant influence and exerts crushing political power.

Do You Think Our Linesman Was Created Equal?

book cover of Linesman

And then there is Ean Lambert. Ean is a ten, certified by the Grand Master. But Ean is unlike any other linesman in that he is almost completely self-taught, a slum dog from the underguts of Lancia; only dogged determination kept him from being booted from training. Ean’s also the only linesman who doesn’t push the lines with his mind. Instead, Ean sings to the lines. Literally. He doesn’t simply feel the lines in his mind; the lines commingle in his heart. He’s not merely manipulating them. He’s communicating with and listening to them. No one knows his secret; Ean doesn’t want to get laughed out of the Linesmen’s Guild, or have his sanity questioned.

Why are the Tens Under the Power of the Confluence?

Ean is also the only ten of the lowly but ambitious Rigel Cartel, and he’s the only ten who’s still planetside. All the other upper-level linesmen have been recruited out to the mysterious “confluence,” an ambiguous sphere of power discovered in space six months ago. No one knows exactly what the confluence is, but as the cartels have moved all their tens there, rumors are that the confluence is some kind of ship or weapon.

Ean would dearly love to venture out to the confluence, but Rigel keeps him at Ashery, the remote space port where Ean’s work pulls in huge profits since he’s the only ten who works on the ailing ships tasked with taking cargo through the void. Ean does good work, too, so although he’s not a guild star, he does have a solid reputation with the tradespeople and military transports who couldn’t care less about the thrall of the confluence.

Leave it to the Nobility to Stir Things Up for Our Linesman

book covers of Linesman Alliance and Confluence

One day, a member of the Lancastrian nobility pays Ean’s boss a visit looking for vengeance for a business deal gone sour (Rigel has a bit of a reputation for shady deals), and she ends up not only purchasing Ean’s services, but buying out his contract, spiriting him off to a custom-built freighter full of VIPs from every walk of life.

It turns out his new employer is Lady Lyan, Emperor Yu’s eldest daughter, and the ship is carrying a glittering myriad of delegates to her wedding which, according to public opinion, will never actually happen. Rumors swirl that the wedding “party” is merely a well-timed cover for an even larger mission.

And now, poor Ean is right in the middle of machinations and plotting that prove even bigger than the growing commotion over the confluence. Is Ean prepared for what will come? Or will his unique skills prove invaluable?

You’re Going to Love Ean, a True Ten Linesman

Photo credit Andrew Kopp ©2015

Honestly, the best thing about Linesman is Ean. He truly is a compelling character. Whether his fish-out-of-water vibe is due to his mean upbringing or his empathy towards the lines, it feels like he has something akin to autism, which is a genius stroke on the part of the author, S.K. Dunstall.*

When Ean is in his element—working with the lines—he is almost a savant, despite the fact that it takes a huge physical and emotional toll on him. At other times, with people, he is easily confused and ill at ease. He can hold his own in social situations when he knows what to expect, but they still often cause him great doubt and discomfort.

His refuge is the “fresher” (think: shower), something he didn’t have as a child and only stringent access to later in life; on the royal freighter, he glorifies in being able to take frequent showers in his own private quarters whenever he feels stressed or unclean, sometimes multiple times a day. After particularly grueling experiences, he will isolate himself there, sitting on the floor of the tiny room with his knees pressed up to his chin, letting the water go through its cycle.

As We Promised, Ean Lambert, Linesman Extraordinaire, Sings!

And oh! How glorious when Ean sings to the lines! He alone taps into the sentience of the ships around him (though ship captains also show a great affinity for their charges). The joy this brings him, along with the great responsibility he bears towards the lines, is not only endearing, but affords you as a reader a uniquely exciting perspective. There are many other characters in Linesman that distinguish themselves, but Ean, like his singing, soars.

Where Linesman shines is not only in the depiction of its characters, and especially Ean’s, but in the series’ central conceit: that space travel relies on a dynamic, emotionally sentient technology that shines brilliantly in the universe. Much like Ean in the Linesman series shines, waiting to sing to you.

If you’re in the mood for a space adventure, with a beautiful conceit beating in its heart, we fully recommend you read Linesman. We’re pretty certain you’ll enjoy it.

~ Sharon Browning

* S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for sisters Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall

Be sure and check out Sharon Browning’s listicle from 2016, Endings and Beginnings, For Better or Worse, where she named Linesman one of her favorites of 2015.

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1 comment

Tee Tate 15 April, 2023 - 3:22 pm

Excellent review, Sharon!

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