CJ Cherryh is a master of conspiracy. So much so that readers experienced with her works suspect every single small turn of word as an indication of something brewing in the background… and her great mastery, one of them, is to sometimes actually let thing be just what they are while suddenly seemingly safe things flare up, evolving fast into major incidents. Great in building suspense!
After having spent the entire munitions store of the continent-spanning aishidi’tat during the last story arch not a single shot is fired in Intruder, book number thirteen in the Foreigner series, and first in this fifth three-book story arch. Not that the sense of danger is lessened; rather we now move into the domain of political plot-making and manipulation, with the situation in the aiji’s innermost circle as the focus point, paired with the healing of the aishidi’tat; something not appreciated by everyone.
In one scene Bren reflects that neither the aiji nor he is the young men they used to be and this captures some of the reason this series manages to uphold interest – the characters evolve over time, as do the complexity of the story, and the story is allowed to span not a book or two but five or six, or more; it could be argued that every one of the thirteen books are part of one and same story, as it spins out over the years.
In some ways the Foreigner series is like a loved TV show. You get to know the people and eventually even the ones that you dislike becomes familiar and understandable and, sometimes, loved. Each new instalment, then, can’t be judged as a standalone but on its qualities in respect to character and plot development in relation till what came before. This book takes Bren and his aishid back to Shejidan and firmly brings back stability, at the end, while plot and characters develop in a satisfying way, consistent with earlier goings-on, which means this is a very good episo… sorry, book.
One of the draw-backs of the familiarity is the tension between “human” and “alien”, and the many ways in which we can misunderstand one another even when we think we’re doing just fine, is mostly gone. Bren has become rather deft in interpreting man’chi, and in asking his aishid when he is in doubt. This has turned the series from being pure science fiction and more into a political sitcom, even when it is obviously involving aliens, space ships, and – perhaps – more aliens. Hopefully we’ll see more of the alien-human interface and its pitfalls during the rest of the story arch – Tabini HAS allowed Cajieri to see his associates from the ship for his ninth birthday :)
So, a promising start to a new sub-tale :)