Imagine if you will, a cross between Yes, Minister, and Jeeves and Wooster. Then set it in space. That’s the premise behind Scott Meyer’s new novel Master of Formalities (published 28 July by 47 North, one of Amazon’s imprints, who were kind enough to give me a review copy through NetGalley).
As humanity has colonised the stars, and civilisations and cultures have diverged, proper etiquette has become ever more important in regulating how cultures interact. A central Council of Arbiters supplies the ruler of each world with a Master of Formalities who is trained and educated in etiquette and protocol, and able to access details of historical precedent to help guide the decision-making of rulers. Each Master of Formalities must obey a single golden rule: they can never tell a ruler what to do, only advise on options and the likely consequences of taking particular actions.
Wollard is the Master of Formalities assigned to assist Lady Jackabitus, the ruler of Apios. Although pompous, he is devoted to his work, and the household staff who work with and for him view him with affection, as do the members of the ruling family. Lady Jackabitus is an authoritarian figure, disinterested in her useless son Rayzo. His raising is left to her husband, Lord Jackabitus, whose most fervent wish is for Rayzo to excel at the form of wrestling that is the main activity for young men on Apios.
Apios has been at war with the Hahn home world for generations, although that war has mostly reached an uneasy stalemate on a battleground planet. But as the novel opens, the Hahn increase hostilities, and in the ensuing conflict, the Hahn son and heir is captured and brought back to Apios. On Wollard’s advice, Lady Jackabitus decides to adopt him into her own family and raise him as her son. Inevitably, this launches a chain of events that leaves no-one unaffected.
Master of Formalities is a light and frothy comic novel, in the grand tradition of comedies of manners. It’s setting in space adds little to the form, but it is great fun nonetheless.
Goodreads rating: 3*