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May 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Snare by Katharine Kerr
Tor HCVR: ISBN0312890451 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Victoria McManus

508 pages List price $27.95
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Katharine Kerr, author of the well-received twelve volume Deverry series, veers away from Celtic fantasy with Snare, a science fiction novel set on the titular planet. Kerr's world, populated by the distant descendants of Islamic fundamentalists who co-exist uneasily with two other human cultural groups and native aliens, is revealed by her lush, detailed style. The source cultures have changed and divided over time, sometimes bearing little resemblance to their roots except for flavor; for example, the Islamic Khanate reminded me far more of the early Islamic period in African and the Middle East than of present-day Islamic countries. This is a novel of political intrigue and personal discovery, set outside of our reality.

The humans of Snare live in lush enclaves set apart from harsh desert ruled by the alien Cha'Meech, sentient vaguely insectoid beings who survive as nomads. The Islamic Khanate seem to be the largest population group; the Vranz (speakers of a form of French) and the nomadic Comnee are smaller groups that prove important to the plot. Fundamental conflicts of the novel are based on the cultural values of settled peoples versus those of nomads. In the end, it is the mixing of cultures that provides the greatest strength.

Captain Idres Warkannan and Lubahva Shiraz, a musician and "palace girl," are part of a conspiracy to unseat the despotic Gemet Great Khan in favor of the pretender Jezro, who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Gemet's secret police, the Chosen Ones. Kerr eases the reader into a conspiracy of astonishing complexity, in which the point-of-view characters sometimes assume the methods of the tyrant to achieve their aims. The "sorcerer" Yarl Soutan adds to the moral ambiguities; his terrible power is knowledge of advanced technology from the colonists' distant ancestors, and he will stretch the bounds of society to preserve and extend his knowledge.

The Jezro plotline is balanced by a journey of discovery made by the Spirit Rider Ammadin and exiled Khanate officer Zayn Hassan. Ammadin, the strongest woman character in the novel, searches for the roots of the humans on Snare and of her own magic. She accomplishes her goal with the aid of a Vranz woman named Loy Millou and one of the Cha'Meech. Zayn, a man of many masks, searches for his own identity, first through a vision quest, then through self-change as he becomes one with Ammadin's people, the comnee. Both Ammadin and Zayn prove to be important in joining together the various human and alien factions.

Snare is not Kerr's first venture into science fiction; she is also the author of Polar City Blues and Freeze Frames. Except for certain technological elements and the presence of aliens, Snare reads like a densely imagined fantasy or the best science fiction - there are no lumps of scientific information dumped in for the sake of erudition. As the novel progresses, technology is interwoven more tightly into the plot. The parts of Snare connect so smoothly, they seem to have grown organically. It's an intriguing world to let yourself be lost in.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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