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Intruder by C. J. Cherryh

Cover art by Todd Lockwood

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Intruder is the thirteenth and latest volume in the long-running series which began with Foreigner, and continues the story of Bren Cameron, the paidhi or interpreter to the atevi, the sapient inhabitants of the world on which his ancestors became marooned after an accident in space caused their colony ship to go astray. In the previous volume Bren had become entangled in the politics of the southern lands known as the Marid, a territory that had long been alienated from the Western Association and had sought by various stratagems to increase the scope of its own power.

In an effort to bring an end to the fighting and treacheries that had nearly destroyed his own coastal estate and the neighboring one that had been held for Lord Geigi by an ineffectual and possibly mentally ill relative, Bren had taken on an older form of the role of paidhi, in which he serves as a representative for both lords in the dispute. It's particularly risky for Bren because he lacks the neurological hardwiring to pick up on the intricate dance of atevi social connection as it shifts around him.

But he survived the dangerous passage through the court of the most powerful southern lord, and now he's finally returned to Shejidan, the capital, and the Bujavid, the ancient fortress that has become the statehouse and executive palace of the Western Association. Although the greatest physical dangers have passed, he now faces great political dangers as he must convince the great lords of the Western Association that the arrangement is indeed to their advantage.

Meanwhile, Cajeiri, mischievous eight-year-old son and heir of the aiji (leader) of the Western Association, has also returned to the Bujavid after his misadventures in the last three volumes of the series. The family's apartments have finally been renovated to mend the damage done during the fighting of the attempt to overthrow Tabini-aiji, and the family is moving back in at last. Now that Cajeiri is on the threshold of his fortunate ninth birthday and has his own circle of associates, he will no longer live in the room he occupied as a baby, before he was fostered to his great-uncle and then his great-grandmother. Instead he will now have a suite of his own, complete with an office for his studies and rooms for his bodyguards. Furthermore, he is to be allowed to furnish it with items from the storerooms, although with the caveat that he may not have any antiquities or public treasures that might be damaged in his keeping, although he may have metal or wood.

While selecting furnishings that bear designs of real and mythical animals that remind him of the countryside in which he so recently adventured, he spies a large brass cage. It is old enough to be considered an antique, but because it is metal and therefore within the bounds of what is allowable, the keeper of storerooms agrees he may have it, if it fits within his rooms and leaves space for his necessary furniture. Curious about its provenance, Cajeiri learns it is customarily used to confine a parid'ja, an animal used for hunting in the northern forests. The species occupy an ecological niche similar to a terrestrial monkey, and may well bear an evolutionary relationship to the atevi parallel to the relationship of monkeys and humans.

Once Cajeiri has the cage in his room, he becomes determined to have a parid'ja to occupy it. So he asks his associates to obtain one for him from the city market. He thinks he'll be able to keep everything under control and by the time the creature is discovered, he will have had it for long enough that he can easily demonstrate that it has been no trouble at all and there's no reason he shouldn't be permitted to keep it.

Of course Cajeiri's schemes seldom go as planned, try as he might to implement his great-grandmother's dictates about thinking ahead and maintaining his self-discipline. He has one close call when the little creature is startled and hides within his rooms, and when his father discovers him in the process of retrieving it, he resolves to be more careful. But the secretive activities of him and his associates have aroused the suspicions of one of his mother's servants, who bursts into the suite just as he's opening the cage door. The parid'ja escapes through an open door into the larger apartment.

Even as Cajeiri is dealing with this emergency, Bren is getting drawn deeper and deeper into atevi politics as several important people make him privy to secrets that all point to a major breach between clans with close ties to Tabini-aiji. Just as Bren has succeeded in securing peace on the periphery, the center may not hold.

For the last several books of this series, I've been struggling with the uncomfortable feeling that the author has lost control of the storyline and was fumbling around to buy time. Reading this volume, I'm gratified to see that our heroes are back in the centers of power and the possible arrival of the kyo, the other alien species, is being seriously discussed. However, this volume ends on much more of a cliffhanger than previous volumes, which leaves me wondering about the author's confidence in the ability of the characters themselves to maintain our interest and desire to see more about them. I really hope that the next volume or two sets this roman fleuve back on track, because I really like the world and would hate to see the series fall apart with a sad whimper.

Review posted July 24, 2012

Buy Intruder: Foreigner #13 from Amazon.com

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