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Pretender by C. J. Cherryh

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The third Foreigner trilogy continues with Bren Cameron and his atevi allies recovering after the attack of the forces of the usurper Murini attacked a historic castle at the end of Destroyer. The perilous balance of alliances of traditional clans that holds together the Western Association, the principal "nation" of the atevi (in as much as one can speak of nations among a species who do not think in terms of territory, but of bonds of loyalty and obligation between persons) is shuddering under the strain of Murini's misrule, which is pressing at the cracks created by the rapid technological and cultural change in what had been a relatively stable society, looking backward for its sense of self and continuity.

Thus it is critical to return Tabini, the rightful aiji or leader, to the center of the Western Association's government as rapidly as possible. But laying the plans is not easy when one of the most critical people is a human of divided loyalties, Bren Cameron. He must walk the fine line between his role as paidhi or interpreter-ambassador, which makes him a member of the civil service of the democratic government of the community of humans stranded generations ago upon the atevi homeworld, and his role as Lord of the Skies, which binds him in man'chi or loyalty to Tabini. Worse, they are currently in a very kabiu, very proper and traditional, atevi household ruled over by one of the arch-conservatives who tie Tabini's forward-looking Westerners to the traditional, xenophobic East.

With time no longer on their side, they put together a makeshift organization that would no doubt have been torn apart in moments by any human army. But atevi are not human, and the concept of standing armies is alien to them. Thus, protected by the mysterious Assassins' Guild, they set off to the Bu-javid, the ancient fortress from which the Western Association is governed. And Bren gets a ringside seat in the intricacies of a culture and society that is very closed-mouthed about itself as a matter of politeness.

Review posed December 14, 2008

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