Cherryh, C. J. Angel with the Sword (Merovingen Nights, #1).

NY: DAW, 1985.

A “shared universe” fiction series can be an interesting proposition, depending on who creates the universe and who provides the subsequent contributions. In this case, Cherryh, a master of world-making and society-inventing, has done the basic work, setting the story in a backwater of her Alliance-Union future.

The city of Merovingen, on the planet of Merovin, is a Venice-like warren of canals separating scores of temporarily surviving island-buildings, joined by hundreds of bridges. (According to the map she provides, it’s in roughly the same geopolitical position as New Orleans in our world.) Merovin’s original colonists weren’t supposed to be there and were ruthlessly evicted by the world’s alien landlords six centuries before the setting of this story. Not everyone allowed themselves to be evacuated, however, and the descendants of the holdouts live a relatively impoverished, low-technology existence while trying not to call attention to themselves. It’s a world of multiple conflicting religions and only semi-harmonious economies, but the focus here is on the canal men (and women) who haul light freight and passengers through the city on gondola-like “skips.”

Altair Jones is one of those, a seventeen-year-old loner who barely gets by but who knows every damp inch of Merovingen. Then one night a body is dropped off a bridge, practically on top of her, and she reflexively drags it out. When the victim turns out to be still alive, and very handsome, and an obvious stranger to boot, she instantly falls in love with him. (Though that word never appears in the book, oddly.) And that’s the beginning of a mad series of chases, attacks, escapes, assaults, fires, and boat-sinkings, with a bit of rather sedate sex thrown in. Unfortunately, the major characters are rather clichéd, the action is often confused (constant reference to the maps of the city is almost mandatory), and the ending is extremely weak and unsatisfying, not unlike the ending of the first episode of a new television series. This is far from Cherryh’s best. I will dutifully hunt up the next volume in the series, which consists of stories contributed by other writers, just to see if it gets any better, but I’m afraid this isn’t an auspicious beginning.

Published in: on 21 June 2013 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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