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A Foreigner Novel #20
C. J. Cherryh

Daw Books
7 January 2020 / ISBN 9780756414276

Reviewed by David M W Powers


Bren Cameron is the human ambassador to the atevi, but his atevi role as paidhi-aiji means that it is also his job to represent the atevi ruler in their dealings with outsiders - of whatever species. The series is largely told from the point of view of Bren.

In this 20th installment, Bren is representing the atevi dowager Illisidi, grandmother of the aiji Tabini and still a power behind the throne, as she seeks to bring stability to the north in the face of intrigues and assassinations, the overt politics of trade, and the covert politics within the guilds. Much of the interest in the series comes from the non-human cultural conventions, traits and proprieties that constrain and control the actions of the atevi, and these are the major drivers of this book.

It is the second novel in a three-volume arc whose main additional protagonist is Cajeiri, the 9-year-old son of the aiji. Cajeiri is expected to act not just as an adult but as a representative of the aiji, and has already played a significant role in a couple of independent areas of international import. He is the only other character whose thoughts we ride in this story.

Cherryh manages the balance of Cajeiri’s child-like interests and concerns, his stepping up as adult and heir in the situation he is presented with, as the development and maintenance of youthful associations that go beyond human friendships and become lifelong allegiances.

The present volume, however, revolves largely around Machigi, a neighbouring ruler with a piratanical [puritanical?] reputation, Nomari, an unexpected, unexexpectedly connected, pretender to the lordship of another neighboring state famed for the fast assassination of its rulers, as well as machinations relating to the development of a railroad to connect the regions. However, we still do not learn as much about these two as we might like - both remain enigmatic to Bren, while Cajeiri provides important aspects of our understanding of Nomari.

This book is an interesting read, but not the best introduction to the series.

Reviewer’s Notes:

In a series this long, a reader new to the series must wonder whether they can start anywhere or must read the series in order, while a past reader may feel they need to reread the entire series to understand each new volume. As a set of trilogies, it would indeed be possible to read one such arc on its own, and Cherryh deftly provides both the cultural and historical background without giving too much away of the previous plots.

This reviewer has come to this volume mid-arc, after an absence of a few years from the annual progression of novels in the series. The characters and the culture were brought quickly back to mind, while the four books that I've missed have not been spoiled, and are indeed now next in my reading queue.
AU Reviewer: David M W Powers is the author of over 300 scientific papers and two books on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. His alter ego, Marti Ward, explores the implications of advanced technologies in science fiction.
Reviewed 2019