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Bewildering Stories

C. J. Cherryh, Deceiver

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Author: C. J. Cherryh
Publisher: DAW, 2010
Length: 384 pp.
ISBN: 0756406013

Everyone who reads science fiction knows C. J. Cherryh. The woman has a back catalogue that will fill the length of its own library shelf, and I’ve read most of them. A friend of mine loves her Morgaine series so much that every few years, he rereads them. I myself own two favorites I intend to beg Ms. Cherryh to autograph, if I ever manage to meet her at a local convention: Faery in Shadow and Downbelow Station, respectively my favorite of her fantasy and her science fiction works. And I just loved those swaggering cats in space, her early Chanur series.

So here I am with her latest continuing series, the Foreigner Universe, and somewhere along the now too-many-to-count line, I missed a few. I read a few of her latest fantasy series, too, and missed the rest. No, I haven’t made any foolish resolutions to only read Good For My Brain (or For My Literary Pretensions), and I haven’t outgrown my love for space adventure. What’s wrong here?

The trouble is Ms. Cherryh, whose works have always had a strong component of political intrigue, has missed her calling. She could have been Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Wolsey, Robispierre, Bismarck, and Kissinger, all rolled into one. Deceiver begins with multiple political intrigues, piles on more, and finishes with the dangling threads of still more saved for future volumes (which are probably out there already). I have no doubt in my mind Ms. Cherryh is capable of spinning towering edifices of double-dealing and dynastic schemes ad infinitum.

Why am I so glum about that, given I usually enjoy the unique political spin in her books? Because intrigue and pages of political back-and-forth expressed in dialogue and multi-page internal ruminations need some relief. And the reader gets precious little in this book. Not nearly enough.

I won’t summarize the latest political intrigues in this book (I suspect Ms. Cherryh must use charts to map these out; I certainly would have to). Suffice it to say that Bren, the human diplomat in the service of the alien lord Tabini, has relocated to his country house along with the ruler’s young son and politically adept grandmother. However, various clans of the alien atevi attempt a takeover of a key neighboring estate, first through dynastic marriage and then through violence.

Tabini (off-stage most of this one) schemes, the grandmother schemes, Bren schemes, the local clan schemes, and the ambitious rival clans scheme. And as usual in this series, when the book ends we are to applaud the superior cunning of Tabini and his grandmother, the loyalty and subtlety of Bren, and prepare for future intrigues.

The best part of the story (the most “human” aspect, though “human” is the wrong word in this case) is the struggle of the young grandson, Cajeiri, to grow up, gain control of his disrespectful, arrogant bodyguards, and step into the adult world. His fright over a new sibling and future rival soon to be delivered by Mom and Dad is perfectly comprehensible. It added the emotional touch otherwise missing from this novel.

I wish Ms. Cherryh had invested more in her characters and their emotional realities in this book. Complex political shenanigans are no doubt fascinating to the participants and, clearly, to the author, but I want to know what they feel, not how clever they are.

Bren, for example, is conducting a cross-species romance with one of his loyal alien bodyguards. And we don’t learn a darn thing about that relationship. I wanted to know more. Does it bother Bren he is physically weaker and smaller than his alien lover? Does it bother other humans he’s sleeping with an alien? Does she ever presume on the relationship, as a normal human would, or is she as faultlessly correct outside of the bedroom as she appears in this book, all the time? Gracious, could the author at least give us a hint of what’s going on?

I sincerely hope Ms. Cherryh, one of speculative fiction’s greats, gets her groove back. She needs to add some right-brain back into this left-brain series. I remember how the doomed romance of the Morgaine cycle affected me. How I browsed the Chanur series fascinated by the lively characters. How I glued eyes to the pages of Faery in Shadow. Don’t give us just abstract political intrigue, Ms. Cherryh. I know you’re a greater writer than that. Add back the heart, the color, and the interpersonal relationships, not just the political ones. — “Love,” from a fan!

Copyright © 2012 by Danielle L. Parker

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