May 11 2009 12:07pm

A new Atevi book: C.J. Cherryh’s Conspirator

Normally a new book in a series I really like means I’d take the opportunity to re-read at least some of the previous volumes, but I re-read all nine of the earlier Atevi books last summer so they were still fairly fresh in my mind. (It’s probably also worth noting that I also re-read most of them if not exactly backwards then nevertheless in an odd kind of order when Deliverer came out.) So, yesterday I noticed (when going to the DAW page to link to something) that Conspirator was out, and not only out but there were supposedly four copies in Indigo, whereupon I abandoned everything and rushed out and bought it and spent the rest of the day reading it.

If you haven’t read any Atevi books, you should start with Foreigner, or possibly Invader and definitely not with this. This is book ten in a complex series, and unlike all of the others so far, it’s actually a piece of middle. If you already love the Atevi books, this will give you your fix, but don’t start here.

I’m slightly disappointed by it.

Maybe it just wasn’t what I was expecting. After the third trilogy dealing with the after-effects of the space mission and Tabini’s overthrow, I thought a fourth trilogy would get to grips with the unresolved human (and Kyo!) problems from the end of Explorer. This is really more of what the last three books have been full of—entirely on the planet, entirely Atevi problems, Cajeiri growing up a little more. There’s closer attention to some things we’ve heard mentioned but not actually seen, especially Bren’s country estate and boat. There are other nifty things. I’ve said before that I’d be quite happy to read “Bren has a good day for a change” and read about the atevi drinking tea and having meetings, and this is a lot closer to that than I ever thought I’d really get.

It seems to me that throughout the first six books the series was constantly opening out new vistas—with the appearance of the ship at the end of Foreigner, of Jase and the Mospheiran problems in Invader, with the tech and further Mospheiran problems in Inheritor, then with the ship/spacestation problems in Precursor and Defender opening out even wider to the other station and the aliens in Explorer. The third trilogy stands in the shadow of Explorer, and while I like those books a lot (and Deliverer is probably my favourite) I’m ready to keep going outwards. Also, what’s happening up in space? Are Sabin and Ogun and Jase and Geigi and Gin just sitting there? The shuttles are supposedly running again. I want to know!

My other problem with Conspirator was that I never had any doubt. I never feared that anyone or anything I cared about was really in any danger, so while the book is exciting in parts (it is, after all, a Cherryh novel) there’s a sense in which none of it mattered much.

All the same, the second I know there’s another new Atevi novel in the bookshop, wild mechieti won’t suffice to keep me from rushing out for it.

1. Atomische
I can't wait to read this one! Normally I tire of a long-winded series after about book three. But after reading each new book in the Atevi series I find myself really missing the characters. I always want to read more about their daily life, drinking tea worrying about man'chi, and so forth.
Declan Ryan
2. decco999
Looking forward to this one myself, although I'll wait a while for the paperback edition. 10 books and counting around the same group of characters and their perspective on well-described events might perhaps wear on the casual reader of CJ Cherryh. But like yourselves, I'm a huge fan and wouldn't miss it for the world.
3. weatherglass
I read Conspirator a few weeks ago and I'm still digesting my reaction to it. I was initially disappointed for the same reasons- you can't go from mysterious space objects dropped into people's orchards to a vacation in the country!- but wound up liking the book a lot. Although I want to know what's going on in space, and I was surprised not to hear anything about what's going on on the space station, I think that the growing complexity of alliances and loyalties on the planet will make that story more interesting when we get there. The last trilogy was mostly headlong forward action; so far, this one is much more about trying to juggle priorities, and I can see that paying off in nice crunchy plot later. In the meantime, I was really glad to get more of a look at ordinary provincial life among the atevi, and especially the complicated history of the peoples of the coast. The last few books have been so focused on action that the chance to step back and reexamine atevi culture and the centuries worth of feuds and politics underlying the current political situation, and the collision of human and atevi culture, was very welcome. I like the inward-turned exploration of the atevi planet after the outward exploration of the middle trilogy. I hope we get more of that, especially atevi attitudes to the island they vacated for humans; the few comments we've seen so far on that have been really interesting.

I agree that a feeling of genuine peril was lacking, although the appearance of really competent Guild members on the other side was nice. I wish more had happened with that. The real dilemmas were all slower-burning ones- what to do about cell phones? How do you cope with difficult relatives? How do you negotiate conflicting loyalties and emotions, and do you bother, when it would be easier to just strangle someone like Barb? What about Illisidi's health?

I do think that the dual Cajeiri/Bren viewpoint really came into its own with this book, as Bren's increasing difficulty in thinking in human terms, although atevi can still be mysterious to him, echoes Cajeiri's own problem of how to retain the human culture he's absorbed in the face of pressure to be more atevi. And the look at Bren's estate, with the catalogue of treasures saved and things worth preserving, and his comment about how you just don't go shooting in the Bujavid, brought home to me his role as champion of tradition, and as someone who loves atevi culture and is horrified by change the atevi themselves are enthusiastically adopting, whose job is both to keep roads unpaved and to get orbital shuttles built. I thought it clarified why he and Illisidi get along so well.

(And actually, writing this having just reread A Civil Campaign finally teased out of the back of my head who Illisidi reminds me of; General Piotr, who Miles says changed over and over, and adapted to the new world he found himself in until it finally outlived him.)

Also, on a trivial note, Conspirator has the prettiest cover of the series.

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