Deliverer by C. J. Cherryh
Published by DAW Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
In the first volume of the third Foreigner trilogy, the human starship Phoenix returned to the earth of the atevi to discover everything in chaos. Tabini-aiji had been ousted by a new aiji of questionable legitimacy, an individual by the name of Murini. Bren Cameron and the dowager Ilisidi had to make a daring quest to find Tabini and help restore him to the headship of the Western Association, the quasi-nation that holds sway over most of the principal continent of the atevi earth. The second volume closed with Tabini back in the Bu-javid, the ancient palace and statehouse in Shejidan, the Western Association's capital, and Murini on the run.
However, simply ousting the usurper and restoring the rightful leader does not necessarily mean that all is well, although many authors would have ended the story at that point. But C. J. Cherryh's never been a novelist to stop with a simplistic happily ever after ending like that. And in this novel she digs into the consequences of the restoration of Tabini. Most obviously, the Bu-javid is in considerable disarray as a result of the fighting. Apartments have been damaged, and priceless antiques and public treasures have been damaged or stolen. Clans of questionable man'chi are in possession of apartments that have traditionally belonged to other families, causing considerable consternation when those lords wish to visit the capital and carry out their traditional duties.
Worse, not everybody is happy with the restoration of Tabini as aiji of the Western Association. Murini would never have come to power without a fair amount of backing, and not all of his backers were killed or expelled from positions of power in the fighting. More than a few of them linger in the area of Shejidan, and a number of them have problematic ties with the isolationist and deeply traditional East, Ilisidi's homeland.
As everyone is trying to pull together some kind of normalcy amidst the chaos, several of these malcontents arrive to pay a social visit to Ilisidi at the Bu-javid. All the proper forms are observed, but in such a way as to border on the rude. Instead of hinting, they And Ilisidi, who has built her life upon being very kabiu, very proper, simultaneously recognizes the insult and knows that she cannot respond to it without breaching the bounds of etiquette in turn.
But it is not only the enemies of the East who are discontented with the end of hostilities. Tabini's own son Cajeiri finds the return to normalcy stifling after nearly two years of nonstop adventure. Worse, he longs for the humans with whom he made an acquaintance while aboard the starship, an arrangement that is now being regarded as most unfortunate, since it may well indicate problem with his normal social development as an ateva, even to the point of not being able to form the normal associations of his species.
In his frustration at being denied resumed access to his former companions, Cajeiri bursts in upon a party being given by Bren Cameron, the paidhi or interpreter-ambassador of the human population stranded upon the atevi homeworld. Such is the shock of his impudence that he is able to contact the ship before anybody can stop him, but his actions are not without consequences. In atevi society, where proper protocol is everything, his actions are deemed as proof that he is not yet truly fit to move in adult company, and he is restricted to his quarters.
Yet Cajeiri is no longer the docile little boy who left two years ago. He has learned well, from many teachers, not all of whom would be approved by the best of atevi society. With his two young atevi associates, both desperately eager to please him, he sets to exploring the secret passageways that riddle the ancient fortress. In doing so, he sets himself on a direct collision course with the Easterners.
And then all hell breaks loose. Cajeiri vanishes, and one of his young associates turns up injured, with a confused account of an attack. Suddenly Bren is trying to sort things out before the disappearance of the heir causes a catastrophic breach in a situation already strained to the limits. And all the time he is all too aware that he is dealing with motivations that he can understand only intellectually, never at the gut level as he would with human politics.
Thus he accompanies the dowager Ilisidi back to Malguri, the ancient family castle to which she had been exiled back in the original Foreigner to keep her away from court and out of trouble, and where he had charmed her. This time he has a far greater appreciation of the history in every stone of this ancient structure, the relationship of it and its lord to the various clans in the surrounding countryside, not to mention the working relationship he and Ilisidi have developed over the years. But there is still a hard limit on how much he can understand, based in biology -- he frequently feels as if he's somehow fallen into a machimi play, one of those traditionalistic kabuki-like dramas in which man'chi is acted out in the sudden breach and restructuring that leaves humans struggling to understand what just went on.
Even as Ilisidi is gathering her allies and mounting a rescue mission, Cajeiri is determined not to just wait in confinement. Recalling the various movies, the human video dramas that he watched on the ship, he sets about studying his prison and determining its weak points, whether they involve physical or social engineering. And he does both, stealing the wherewithal to damage the walls and manipulating his captors with lies in order to gain access to areas from which he hopes he may more easily escape, using his knowledge of traditional castle construction and layout.
The novel comes to a triumphant conclusion, with a daring rescue and the elimination of several of Tabini's most dangerous enemies. However, it is not the end, for we still have the alien kyo on their way to the earth of the atevi, expecting an orderly world with which to make an alliance. So there will be more volumes in this saga.
This volume marks one major departure from previous volumes in the Foreigner series: for the first time Bren Cameron is not the sole point-of-view character. The decision to add Cajeiri as a second point-of-view character may have been at least partly necessitated by the structure of the plot, since there was no other way to keep the reader posted on his situation after he is kidnapped, and his efforts to self-rescue, alongside the efforts of Bren and the dowager Ilisidi, make a big part of the drama of the latter part of the book. But it also affords us a look into the mind of an ateva, even one young and still in the process of formation, and at least partly influenced by human cultures and ideas.
Review posted October 9, 2014.
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