Cherryh, C. J. Betrayer.

NY: DAW Books, 2011.

This is the twelfth episode in the saga (and it is that) of Bren Cameron, the paidhi-ajii, the mediator between the humans on their island and the atevi, whose world it is. That being the case, it would impossible to try even to summarize all that has gone before, except to note that Bren has gone native in a big way.

He’s now the principal advisor to Tabini, head of the Western Association, who runs most of the world, serving as the go-between among the various factions of the atevi themselves. Events here follow closely upon those of Deceiver, the previous volume, and are largely the outgrowth of the recent attempt by intensely conservative factions to overturn Tabini’s government, aided by the leaders of the southern clans of the Marid, who have been at odds with the north for a long, long time. But the story this time deals less with global politics and more with events in a single room in the fortified “palace” of Machigi, the young, charismatic, ambitious, and very intelligent warlord of the strongest of the southern clans. And the players are mostly restricted this time to Bren himself, his four atevi bodyguards (though they have become a good deal more than that), and his brother, Toby, and Barb-daja, with whom Bren and Toby both have a history. Having been injected into things by Illisidi, Tabini’s grandmother, and an extremely formidable political force in her own right, Bren finds himself with conflicting loyalties as he tries to represent each side honestly to the other.

But “loyalty” is the wrong word, and here is where I’m most fascinated by this series. The atevi, who are very humanlike in most respects (though somewhat larger), do not feel loyalty in the human sense. Rather, they are psychologically hardwired for manchi, an innate sense of “association,” without which an individual feels uncomfortable and rather lost. It’s an original concept and Cherryh goes to great lengths to ring all the changes on it.

There’s plenty of non-stop action this time, military and otherwise, and you’ll be holding your breath through the last few chapters, but still, what draws me in is the author’s mastery of an alien psycho-political mindset and what it means to the humans who don’t share it, who don’t even entirely understand it. Not even the paidhi, sometimes. If you’ve never seen this series, go find Foreigner, the first volume, and settle in for an exciting and mind-illuminating voyage.

NOTE: I first met Carolyn in the mid-’70s, when she was still a public school teacher in Oklahoma City and I was a librarian and avid science fiction fan in Dallas. I was one of the small group of fans who dragooned her into attending her first AggieCon at A&M, just after Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth were published, and where she was somewhat floored by the enthusiasm with which she was received. I haven’t missed a single one of her books since.

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