Thursday, August 05, 2010

Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh

Bren Cameron is human, but he is also the ambassador to the non-human atevi clans from the Human island of Mospheira. Bren serves the atevi lord, Tabini-aiji of the Western association. Tabini's power were challenged when Bren, Tabini's heir Caijeri, and Tabini's mother, the aiji-dowager, Ilisidi were off in space contacting an alien race on behalf of the atevi lord. Their mission took longer than expected, and in the absence of Bren and the others, some associations raised in rebellion against Tabini.

Now, the fighting is over and Tabini is back as Lord of the Western association. Bren decided to take some time to relax on his own estate outside the capital, at Najida. But unbeknownst to him, Najida has many who sympathize with the rebels, and they have taken shelter in a neighboring state owned by a Lord named Geigi, who supports Tabini, and whose nephew is supposedly in charge of the estate while Geigi has taken over running the space station in orbit.

Things would be bad enough if it was merely Bren who was in danger, but Caijeeri decided to slip free of the reins of his protectors and visit Bren on his own. Instead of charging after Caijeri himself, Tabini sent his mother, the Dowager Ilisidi, to bring the boy back. But while Ilisidi is formidable in personality, she is fairly old and frail for an atevi, leaving them all in danger from the rebels who have no problems with killing Bren to inconvenience Tabini. And Bren has some other visitors as well, his brother, Toby, and his new wife, Barb, who was once engaged to Bren and left him for being "too alien" because he had to learn how to be atevi to be able to live in their society.

Bren, who has since found a relationship with an atevi member of the assassin's guild, Jago, which serves the atevi as assassins, bodyguards and messengers, cannot help but suspect Barb wishes to get back at him in some way by having a relationship with his brother. But at the same time, they seem very happy together, and Bren can't bring himself to wish hurt on his brother. He and Barb seem to have finally made peace with each other and their past relationship, and her new relationship with Tony when she is kidnapped and Tony is hurt by an attack of the rebels.

Bren must go to rescue her. As someone who is soon to be part of his family, and someone who helped him against the rebels, he can do no less for her. But to do that means getting the help of Lord Geigi, who must be summoned down from the space station to put his house in order (quite literally). And while Ilisidi talk with a group of atevi who were once foes of the Western association to try and gain their help against the current rebels, Bren and his bodyguards must capture Geigi's nephew, who is supporting the rebels, and deal with Lord Machigi, who is their current leader. But can he save Caijeri, Ilisidi and Barb while remaining alive and free himself? Or will this mission simply be too much for him and his reduced, over-stretched household?

I really enjoy C.J, Cherryh's atevi. They are truly, convincingly alien. If you thought human politics could be Byzantine, the Byzantines had nothing and I mean NOTHING on the atevi. Just the assassin's guild alone is amazing. They are assassins for hire, yes, but they also act as bodyguards, and even a message service that can send messages between different Lords. They are also quasi-independent. They won't accept a contract unless their members agree (or a majority- there are no freelance assassins. If you accept or carry out a contract the guild doesn't agree with, you are killed, no ifs, ands or buts.

That's not the end of it, and that is almost the least of the differences between the atevi and humans. In addition to being much taller than humans (the averageatevi being 6 1/2 to 7 feet tall or more), they also have some very strange beliefs, like that of "fortunate numbers". But the name of the series, and indeed, the first book, Foreigner, describes Bren more than most humans. Bren is a foreigner not only among the atevi, but among his own people. Taught not only to speak the atevi language but to think like them, he is truly at home nowhere. Too foreign for humans, and even for most atevi, he is a man who has carved out a place for himself among aliens, and seems to have alienated the humans closest to him in the process. But that is slowly changing, as both Tony and his wife Barb seem better able to accept him now.

This series is one I find truly intriguing and each one expands a bit more on atevi politics and culture, and Bren's place in both the culture he has adopted and his home culture. Luckily, atevi closeness is based not on family or affection, but association and loyalty, known as man'chi- something I think many people would have trouble adjusting to. Utterly alien, yet somehow understandable, this series reminds me a lot of Cherryh's "Forty Thousand in Gehenna" in how far humans, or one human in particular, can come from his own race and still be understandable as another human. An excellent series, very thought-provoking, but enjoyable as an adventure at the same time.

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