by C. J. Cherryh
Cover Artist: Donato
Review by Ed Carmien
DAW Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0756404142
Date: 06 February, 2007 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In this the felicitous ninth novel of Cherryh's Foreigner series there is once again a threat to the stability of the Atevi government. Bren Cameron, human translator to that government, is of course in the thick of things, as is the irrepressibly grumpy yet lovable grandmother of the Atevi leader, Ilisidi. Only recently returned from space (along with the Atevi leader's son, Cajeiri, who grew quite fond of humans during his sojourn) and still recovering from un-couping the coup that occurred while they were away, it isn't long before the main characters must confront those naughty easterners who continue the process of destabilizing things begun by the usurper Murini, still on the run after Tabini returns to power.
If this sounds like the tip of an awfully big iceberg of plot and counterplot, one's ears do not deceive. Deliverer continues the now episodic storyline established in Foreigner more than a decade ago; recent novels have become less complete novels in their own right and more complex chapters in an ongoing story. Cherryh's management of this shift to episodic fiction has been uneven, as particularly noted in book 8, Pretender, which suffered from under-plotting and a lack of participation in ongoing interesting events by the primary viewpoint characters.
Happily, Deliverer represents a defter hand at the wheel. Cherryh finally avoids presenting "here's what happened in the past" material early in the novel, a logical and very welcome choice. In addition to Cameron's narrative viewpoint we now are privileged to hear the story from Cajeiri's perspective. This is a welcome addition to the narrative flow, as it places more action into the reader's view. In addition, this allows Cherryh to provide the reader with Cajeiri's unique observations, as an atevi, about the human/atevi interface. Bren Cameron has spent a lot of time helping raise the heir to the Western Association during their two years in space, and during that time the boy formed strong atevi-like (at least on his side) associations with a group of human children. While he snapped into his biologically destined role as a focal point for man'chi in Pretender, accumulating two atevi followers, he is still a child and misses his space-journey human pals quite a bit.
Such human association is anathema to more conservative atevi elements, of course, so it is lucky Ilisidi has had such a strong hand in his political and social education, skills and knowledge. These things serve him well in the events of Deliverer. Aside from Cajeiri's storyline (told with an entertaining flavor that comes from his exposure to human action films), Bren is of course still a player in the game, and serves in a pivotal role in restoring harmony to the tangled world of atevi governance.
Readers familiar with the series will be rewarded as usual with a mention or two of Bren's now long-term relationship with his bodyguard, Jago. In addition, there is a somewhat mechanical and predictable interaction with his brother, Toby. Ilisidi carries on in her usual manner--naturally, mechieta (riding beasts) and a daunting journey are involved. In many of these, Cherryh's narrative restraint continues to operate. For example, there are no steamy descriptions of sex: describing the ongoing and warm status of Bren and Jago's relationship seems to be sufficient.
Even readers accustomed to this restraint may find themselves annoyed by a choice Cherryh makes here. After dangling hint after hint throughout the novel, a key thing goes largely undescribed. It will come as no surprise that the book ends with a small-arms firefight in difficult terrain and conditions--such is a staple of the Foreigner series--but it is quite disappointing that the thing, so painstakingly foreshadowed throughout the book, is only vaguely described, despite having a pivotal role at a key moment of heart-pounding conflict. The fact that what this thing is echoes all the way back to the very first novel in the series makes its fuzziness even more aggravating.
Cherryh's deft hand with palpably alien aliens (to readers steeped in a Euro-American perspective, at least) continues to attract, as do the ongoing lives of her cast of characters in the Foreigner series. If too many things seem to possess script immunity, it may be that Cherryh, having now clearly ventured into the world of series fiction, may wish to review the lessons of the greats in this field. John D. McDonald's Travis McGee series, although now quite dated, is a good example of how series characters can live in a changing world without losing appeal in the eyes of a reading audience. Tony Hillerman's Navajo detective books, featuring Lt. Leaphorn and Jim Chee, are another such example. While Flash may never be seen consummating his love for Dale, McGee ages, Leaphorn "retires", Mary Russell grows up and marries her Holmes, Hornblower gets promoted, and so on.
Even with a presumption of script immunity for key characters and plot elements, the finale here is rousing, though one is roused within the strong confines of Victorian-like restraint. Cajeiri's narrative and Bren's rejoin with droll abandon and one is again left with a yen to move on to the next chapter--errr, "book", of the series, this time with the added tension of wondering how and where Cherryh will continue the overarching story of a human enclave on an atevi planet set in a corner of the galaxy that now has both friendly and unfriendly parties in nearby space. As I have mentioned in several reviews of books in this series, Deliverer is not a suitable starting point for readers interested in Cherryh, a prolific and important science fiction author. See Foreigner instead, still in print and available on bookshelves. However, once hooked, beware: eventually, gentle reader, you will end up in Deliverer's clutches…and be left after that with a yen to wonder what will happen in book 10.