C. J. Cherryh Reread

Breakfast in the ruins: C.J. Cherryh’s Destroyer

Destroyer is the seventh Atevi book, the first in the third trilogy, and it really is impossible to say anything about it without spoilers for it and the earlier books. This is my post on the series as a whole. Please do not start with Destroyer.

Cherryh is doing a very clever thing here, and unexpected, at least by me. For five books she told us how essential Bren was to the peace of the aishiditat, how crucial, and then she sent him away and for Explorer we got focused on the aliens and the Guild and space. When he comes back it’s a shock to find that everything has collapsed without him. There’s a constant movement in these books where what was alien becomes familiar and what was enemy becomes ally, and here we have the reverse of that—when Bren was on the ship, he wanted to be on the planet, back on the planet the conveniences of the ship suddenly seem desirable. Also, for three books the atevi have been the stable point, so having their government collapse and everything in that direction thrown into flux is shocking. The ship and Mospheira are suddenly stable and reliable in comparison.

There was a point the first time I was reading Destroyer when I was hyperventilating and I wanted everything to be fixed by the end of the book. I could see I wasn’t going to get that, and I tried to work out where we would be—and I was right, it ends with us meeting up with Tabini. I mention this because I think this is the first time I’d ever predicted Cherryh’s plotting, which is usually pleasingly opaque to me. One of the reasons I don’t understand people who say they don’t re-read because they know what’s going to happen is because I generally know what’s going to happen anyway.

I love Cajeiri here, Cajeiri being deprived of his birthday party, Cajeiri being too human—this is the beginning of the problem of Cajeiri being caught between worlds. Cajeiri’s experiences in Explorer have shifted the course of his whole life. I like the shifting sands of atevi politics and Bren trying to work his way through on sheer logic. I like Bren missing the servants and suddenly remembering that he’s the odd one as human, not the way it has been on the ship. I was surprised by Toby and Barb, and pleased at how that went—especially with Jago. Jago is great here. Bren was shaken and felt as if the whole thing was his fault—which it was in a way—but he copes, he isn’t helpless and sunk, he deals with the situation.

And who’s the destroyer? Bren himself, destroying traditional atevi society despite his best efforts? Murini, the upstart rebel aiji destroying the aishiditat? The ship, destroying traditional atevi society by existing—or humans, by existing?

More than any of the others so far, this volume does not have good volume completion. Not only do you need to have read the others and particularly Explorer, you’ll want to have Pretender close at hand when you finish it.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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