Friday, October 14, 2011

Exiled: Clan of the Claw by S.M. Stirling, Harry Turtledove, Jody Lynn Nye, John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson

The world of this book is one where the asteroid that struck the earth and caused the death of the Dinosaurs never happened.. Dinosaurs developed human-level intelligence and created massive lands ruled over by Saurian lords who could control the others with the power of their minds. They call themselves the Lishkash, and their primary lands are in the South, where it is mostly hot and dry. But they aren't alone on this world. Mammals also survived on this world, becoming cat-like creatures who call themselves the Mrem, and they and the Lishkash fight on a regular basis.

But catastrophe has come to the Mrem, and their own southern lands are being overrun by waters, forcing them to travel to reach the northern lands where their people dominate. But their journey will take them through the Lishkash lands, and the Lishkash love the Mrem... they think they make the best slaves. Can the Mrem survive the Lishkash lords who will attempt to enslave them on their journey and keep themselves strong until they reach their northern kin?

"The Mrem Go West" by Harry Turtledove tells the story of Rantan Taggah, Clawleader of the Clan of the Claw. It is under his aegis that the clans, seeing that they will be overrun by the Lishkash as the waters continue to rise, decide to gather up their beasts, possessions and warriors, and begin their trek across the Lishkash lands to those of the Northern Mrem. To do this, the warriors will have to work with the Priestesses of the Goddess Assirrah and the God Aedoniss to ensure that the armies of the Lishkash don't find them easy marks. But there are warriors who have never been in battle and only talk a good game. Can Rantan Taggah keeo his warriors safe when there is dissent and even treasonous cowardice in the ranks that can end up defeating his force before it has even begun to fight?

"A Little Power" by S. M. Stirling is about a Mrem who has been enslaved by the Lishkash, Ranowr. When the Lishkash ruler Ashala (who calls herself a goddess) decides to use her slave Mrem as warriors against their own people, she assigns her daughter Hisshah as their leader, tasked with turning them into a viable fighting force. But as Ranowr works to help his slave brothers become an effective fighting force, can he play Hisshah off against her mother and the other Lishkash who are expecting her to fail- even to the point of placing her on her mother's throne? And can he do it without selling out either his fellow slaves or the free Mrem who he hopes will accept his people into their ranks? And furthermore, what will be the cost to him and his fellow Mrem should he somehow succeed?

"Battle's Ride" by Michael Z. Williamson tells the story of Nrao Aveldt, a farseeing Mrem who carved out his hold from the lands of the Lishkash. But the encroachment of the waters means he soon must move, because displaced Lishkash will reinforce the ones he already must protect his land from. So he assigns his Talonmaster, Hress Rascil, to work with the Priestess Cmeo Mrist to strengthen the battle chant that allows the Priestesses to Dance and make the Magic that can protect the warriors from the Lishkash assault on their minds that can enslave them. But will the warriors be able to work with the priestesses on an arrangement that is fair to all and keep everyone protected? And can the two of them find a way to ensure that the warriors keep the Priestesses from harm and don't run off to join the slaughter of Lishkash, leaving the Priestesses unprotected? Can they defeat the forces of Oglut with magic or nature?

"Cata" by John Ringo and jody Lynn Nye tells of the Rangil Clan, who had to trade with a Lishkash city for food to continue their Trek to the great Water. But the Price of the food is for the ruler of the city to see the Dance to the Mrem Goddess. So, some Priestesses and Warriors must travel there to do it, and a group of Warriors must be sent along to protect them. But is the price merely a trap intended to kill or enslave the Mrem in it, or are they hostages for the rest of the tribe? When the rulers decide to kill the warriors and priestesses in the city, can the warrior and Priestess in charge of the detatched group escape the city and rejoin their tribe without falling victim to the Lishkash who want to kill them? And will they succeed in allowing the rest of the tribe to get far enough away to escape any Lishkash sent after them?

I liked the Premise of the book, which is a mix of science fiction (asteroid which wiped out dinosaurs never fell and Dinosaurs and mammals both achieve sentience) and a sort of fantasy, as the world is in a fairly medieval state and has a kind of magic with mind-powers, goddesses and protection from Mind-Powers. It's an intiguing mix. The Mrem, while forced to being warriors because of the Lishkash hostility, don't inspire parallels with the Kzinti. However, the Lishkash are portrayed with the sort of cold-bloodedness that Dinosaurs are supposed to possess, but at the same time, Dinosaurs weren't really all cold-blooded, and the Lishkash shown on the cover looks an awful lot like a Dragon, while the Mrem looks like a cat-eared Neanderthal (with a Longbow, I must admit).

But the stories inside are pretty much all stories of war, and owe a lot to science fiction war stories written by authors like David Weber and Simon Green. Most of the characters in the stories are warriors and Talonmasters, like Generals or High-ranking army guys, while the Priestesses are more like civilians or support personnel. Most of the stories end up with the warrior and priestess falling in love, or at least showing some sort of attraction, which made some of the stories more attractive to me. And even though each of the stories are written by separate authors, the stories as a whole hang well together, and some of the details from one story are known to the clan in another, making them seem like they are happening in the same world and to the same people.

Some worldbuilding goes on, but it's limited to about two pages at the beginning of the book, and you don't need to read all of the stories to know what is going on- you can read the two page setup/intro and one story and understand everything that is going on, which is really nice. The interstory links are just icing on the cake, really. And as this js just the first volume of the story, it;s a good thing that I want to see more. It would be nice to see some Lishkash that didn't decide to kill or enslave the Mrem merely because they are different. Can we have some non-villainous dinosaurians? That being said, my favorite story was "A Little Power" because of the interaction of the characters on each side.

It's a great volume that manages to make a coherent work from four different stories and a background. I liked the book and the characters. Each story was different, yet managed to evoke the feeling that each was happening on the same world. A wonderful story and each one is well-written and compelling to read. I am looking forward to more books in this series. Highly recommended.

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