Cherryh, C. J. Visitor.

NY: DAW, 2016.

This is the seventeenth volume in the "Foreigner" saga — and “saga” is definitely the word. Cherryh is famous for (among other things) her skills at world-building and in creating multidimensional alien beings and their cultures, and to my mind this epic is her masterwork.

The story is so complex now that any attempt to summarize the setting and even the major events would be futile, so I will only note that the action picks up perhaps an hour after the previous episode ended. In fact, rather than being a "series," in the sense of a book with a number of sequels, this thing is mostly a single, continuous narrative of more than 6,500 pages — so far.

Bren Cameron, the human paidhi to the atevi ruler and his court on the planet the two species uneasily share, has hurried up to the orbiting space station on receiving word that the kyo, a third alien species considerably more advanced and powerful than either humans or atevi, are about to pay their promised visit, like it or not. He’s accompanied by the pair who were present at the original meeting with the kyo: Ilisidi, the aged aiji dowager and the second-most-powerful person on the planet, and young Cajeiri, the aiji’s heir. The dowager is physically frail but still mentally very sharp, and the kid is being raised to succeed his father, so he’s no dummy, either. Bren is glad to have the assistance of both of them — especially since the three young stationer humans with whom Cajeiri has established an association ("friendship" is not a concept the atevi really understand, but they have their own version) have just had to be rescued from those who would have manipulated them for partisan human political reasons.

The first part of the book is mostly Bren and his colleagues trying to prepare themselves to deal with their alien visitors, whose motives they’re not at all sure of. The tension virtually radiates from the page and the discussions they have regarding the difficulties of inter-species communication are fascinating. And then the kyo arrive, and the two negotiating teams dance around each other for awhile, but things seem generally to be going pretty well. But then Bren discovers who exactly it is that the kyo have been at war with on the other side of their expanse of space — and suddenly it’s a whole new ball game. And the paidhi will be forced to make extremely painful decisions for the greater good of everyone on his world. I mean—. Wow. I did NOT see that coming.

This series is constructed in three-volume plot arcs, so the next book will presumably wrap up the cliff-hangers from this one. And I’ll be waiting, not very patiently. And if you have somehow not discovered this amazing story, . . . well, make sure your local library owns all the volumes so far and start at the very beginning, because you’re in for a treat.


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