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C.J. Cherryh
DAW, 416 pages

C.J. Cherryh
C.J. Cherryh attended the U of Oklahoma and received a B.A. in Latin in 1964 before moving on to Johns Hopkins for an M.A. in Classics. Her awards include the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and Hugo Awards for her short story "Cassandra" and her novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

C.J. Cherryh Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Faded Sun Trilogy
SF Site Review: Explorer
SF Site Review: Defender
SF Site Review: Hammerfall
SF Site Review: The Faded Sun Trilogy
SF Site Review: Finity's End
SF Site Review: The Dreaming Tree

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

C.J. Cherryh is the best writer of first-contact stories in the business. Nobody offers more insight in the psychological subtleties of human-vs-'Other' communication, and the problems and issues that can result when one group thinks -- mistakenly -- that it understands the other. Previous works like the Faded Sun series and the Chanur series amply demonstrate her skill, but the Foreigner series, of which this book is part, is her masterwork.

The series is divided into trilogies, which makes Conspirator the first book of the fourth trilogy -- a mind-boggling designation, but don't let that bother you. Back story is so neatly woven into the opening chapters that a new reader won't have any trouble getting up to speed.

Setting the stage: About 200 years ago, human starship Phoenix went badly astray. Lost and low on reserves, it limped into orbit around a remote Earth-like world with a Sun-like star, dropped a small colony to look for useful resources, and went off to find a way back to known space. But the planet was already inhabited by an intelligent humanoid species, the atevi.

Because they'd managed to learn some atevi language, the colony assumed they understood the atevi. They didn't. War ensued. Humanity lost. The surviving humans resettled on an island off the coast of the atevi Western Association. Only one human, the paidhi, was now allowed on atevi soil -- as diplomat, ambassador, linguist, technical analyst, and sometime-spy.

The paidhi's job is ostensibly to translate, help regulate trade between the two species, and demonstrate to nervous atevi that humans can be civilized. It wasn't an easy job then, and it hasn't really gotten any easier for the current paidhi, Bren Cameron, despite the solid connections he has forged within the atevi government. Bren is solidly within Tabini's "man'chi," a dangerous word that can mean alliance, association, a partnership -- but never friendship. The atevi have no words for 'friend,' or 'love,' or even 'like'; different biology, different brain, different emotional connections, no less strong for their being non-human.

Recent political instabilities -- the atevi "Troubles" -- have left the ruling aiji, Tabini, and his supporters just a bit more paranoid than usual (paranoia being a natural atevi state, as hard-wired as a plant's need for sunlight). Upstart factions in the south recently attempted to overthrow Tabini and murder him and his family. Though Tabini once again leads the government, the atmosphere remains... touchy. So when Tabini's heir, precocious and oh-so-bored, nine-year-old Cajeiri runs off from the capital on an unscheduled adventure to visit Bren at his estate on the coast, all hell breaks loose.

Bren's human hard-wiring says "protect the boy at all costs," because that's what humans do, but there's also a hair-trigger political situation to worry about. Whoever has Cajeiri may also have a hold, by man'chi, on Tabini -- but only if the atevi lord's man'chi to his son is stronger than his man'chi to the currently fragile government of the Western Alliance. Add to this complications from Bren's own family in the form of a vulnerable brother, a meddling old flame, and an ateva bodyguard who also happens to be Bren's lover, and you have a tangled plot that only a writer as skilled as Cherryh can resolve.

Intrigue, action, suspense, marvelously drawn characters, and plenty of alien psychology are neatly balanced here, creating a book that just about any science fiction reader will be happy with. Don't worry about coming into the series late. As the beginning of the latest trilogy, Conspirator is a fine place to start.

Copyright © 2009 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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