Jun 7 2010 9:54am

Humans are crazy that way: C.J. Cherryh’s Deceiver

Deceiver is the new Atevi novel, eleventh in the series, second in the fourth trilogy. It carries on directly from Conspirator, with hardly a breath between volumes.

Without spoilers I can say that it’s another worthy volume in the series, but you really want to have read all the others before you read this. It just isn’t possible to write a proper review of the eleventh book in a series without spoiling everything that came before.

If the first trilogy was “getting the atevi off the planet” and the second was “dealing with what they found in space” the third was “coping with what they’d come back to”. The fourth so far seems to be “exciting adventures around Bren’s seaside house”. This looks to me like a narrowing of scale. There seems to be no reason she can’t keep writing a book a year in this series forever, and I’ll certainly keep buying them, but I do hope she’s setting things up for something wider that I can’t see yet, because this does seem much narrower in scope than the trilogies that have come before.

The deceiver here may be Pairuti of the Maschi, who has fooled Geigi into thinking he’s the most boring man on the planet while dealing with the worrisome south behind everyone’s back. Or it could be whichever Southern lord has set up Machigi. But Bren is a deceiver too. He has separated his interests from Mospheira, now he separates them a little from Tabini. He justifies this up and down, he explains his liking for Geigi to Geigi by saying humans are crazy that way, but what is he doing but going across the lines of man’chi in the exact way paidis are supposed to avoid? Isn’t this what caused the War of the Landing? He had better not get away with it, that’s all I’m saying.

Cajeiri here is much more atevi, he’s learning his atevi instincts and how to manipulate man’chi, even if he’s not doing it well and causing a crisis. He still misses his friends on the ship. I love the scene where he learns a lot from and about Geigi by asking Geigi to carry a message to Gene for him. Cajeiri is becoming a proper atevi aiji, he’s growing up and he’s a lot older than the kid who wanted pizza and movies a year before.

This is a book full of events and excitement in which not much actually happens. Toby is injured. Barb is kidnapped, and found again. Bren and his bodyguards, with various help, break into one house and walk into another, warily. Tabini rushes in and out. Cajeiri tries to cope with his bodyguards. But at the end we’re hardly any further than we were at the beginning. I think this will read much better when I have the felicitous third to complete the trilogy—unfortunately, that won’t be until some time next year.

News from space—things are doing OK, Geigi likes it better there than at home, and there’s a fourth captain again, though we don’t know who. I do like the way they sometimes speak in kyo for security, that’s very clever. I hope the kyo are going to show up in the next volume.

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.

This article is part of C. J. Cherryh Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Rachel Howe
1. ellarien
I have found myself thinking of this trilogy as the one where Bren rearranges the politics of half the continent to get his apartment back, but that's unfair.

It is starting to worry me that Bren seems to think he's better at atevi politics than most of the atevi, these days. ("Third savviest political operator on the planet," indeed.)
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Ellarien: Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking. He is definitely due for a fall if he keeps thinking that way, and I'm not sure that kind of book that would be.
Neon Sequitur
3. Neon Sequitur
It appeared to me that Bren lost the ability to remain completely neutral in atevi politics quite a few volumes ago. (When Tabini gave him titles other than paidhi.) This looks to me like the point at which he stops pretending he's still neutral, and actually spending some of the substantial political capital (or its atevi equivalent) which he's accumulated over the years.
Eugenie Delaney
4. EmpressMaude

"I have found myself thinking of this trilogy as the one where Bren rearranges the politics of half the continent to get his apartment back, but that's unfair."

Unfair, maybe, but brilliant, absolutely! :)

It's akin to someone I know describing a The Wizard of Oz as "Farmgirl with Head Trauma has Intense Hallucinations" ;)
Neon Sequitur
5. Shakatany
I don't think the kyo will show up in the next volume unless it's at the very end but I'm hoping that the next trilogy will deal with them and their mysterious neighbors.
6. AlecAustin
It is starting to worry me that Bren seems to think he's better at atevi politics than most of the atevi, these days. ("Third savviest political operator on the planet," indeed.)

Yeah, that was pretty jarring, I must say.

Minor spoilers follow.

I'm not 100% on what Bren's doing being against Man'chi and the sort of thing that caused the War of the Landing, because while his doing it at Ilsidi's behest is problematic, the members of Tabini's bodyguard who are with him go along with it, which suggests that their cooperation with Ilsidi and Bren's plan for dealing with Machigi doesn't violate their Man'chi because they see its probable outcome as ultimately in Tabini's interests. I mean, I could be wrong about that and Cherryh could be doing exactly what you describe with it, but Man'chi seems to function on a very pragmatic and ruthless level, and the pragmatic read on Bren's actions is they're a calculated risk with a very high potential payoff.

I do think that this book was by far the least conclusive of the series to date. I occasionally bitch about nothing happening in Defender aside from a polite poisoning, but at least the book ended with a definite moment of transition - departing the space station for a year-long journey. Instead of ending in a lull, like most (all?) of the preceding books do, Deceiver ends at a moment of only slightly relaxed tension. It was much more of a cliffhanger ending than I'd come to expect from this series.

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