I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
Caissa is the body-heir of Baythan, an exceptional hunter and all-around perfect specimen of manhood (no really – much is made of his excellent genetic pattern). Caissa is now old enough that she should start considering bearing her own body-heir, but she isn't happy with the man her father suggests she at least establish a temporary heir-contract with. She has a feeling that his recommendation is tied to an undisclosed clause in his heir-contract with her womb-mother, the haughty and vain High Lady Cinna.
Out of loyalty to her father, Caissa agrees to at least meet the man he recommended, but the meeting leaves her feeling so insulted that she decides to leave the city for a bit to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, she didn't bother to check her fuel first and ends up briefly stranded in the ruins of Yellow Triad City. It's there that she meets a mysterious man named Murell and learns more about coelura, beings able to spin beautiful living cloth that responds to its wearer's mood.
This was a reread. For some reason, my vague memories of it painted it as a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella. It definitely wasn't, and even “sci-fi fairy tale” doesn't seem appropriate. It was just a short, simple sci-fi story that happened to have magic cloth and instalove.
Well, nearly instalove. Caissa and Murell were wary of each other, at first. But then they talked, Murell learned that Caissa wasn't greedy for coelura cloth the way most women he knew would be, and Murell's outfit and couch (stone covered in coelura cloth) nudged them together. Supposedly they spent a lot of time talking in between bouts of (off-page) sex, but readers weren't shown any of that. After that, Caissa pined after Murell and found herself torn between her desire to be a dutiful daughter and her desire to protect the coelura alongside Murell.
It's tough to say whether I guessed Murell's identity and idea about how to protect the coelura because of my vague memories about the book or because it was just that obvious. There was one big clue that Caissa noted but misinterpreted, and, honestly, the big revelation was a fairly standard one. All in all, the story was pretty simple – most of the book was devoted to setting the stage and trying to explain how the world worked. Body-heirs, the importance of physical and genetic perfection (something that had the potential to become incredibly gross if more time had been spent on it), heir-contracts, etc. I found it a little amusing that McCaffrey managed to work a romantic relationship into a story set in a world that was practically designed to include as little romance as possible. Even friendships seemed to be few and far between. Caissa's closest confidante was Trin, the elderly woman responsible for dressing her.
This was a so-so read, not what I'd recommend to someone just getting started with McCaffrey's works. However, the reason it stuck in my mind for so many years wasn't because of the story, but rather because of its illustrations. They're amazing. Granted, the hair styles tend to be odd – I swear, Caissa often looks like she hacked at the top of her head with a knife – but the detail and the artist's decision to take some of the imagery literally means these illustrations are still well worth checking out. My favorites are the ones depicting the tension and power imbalance in Baythan and Cinna's relationship. And sure, Lady Cinna is vain and horrible, but her outfits and hair look absolutely wonderful.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)