Why I read this book: I was seeking out well-regarded science fiction and found this book (along with many others in the series at the used book store. Unfortunately, we were missing the first book, but I hoped it wouldn’t matter short of having a few holes in the story.
Did I Enjoy this book: Eh. I gave it my first 2, and I couldn’t finish it so I have to say “No,” but the reality is that the book was “interesting” just not engaging.
What I learned from this book: Two things: First, alien culture is a fascinating topic that apparently can be explored in hundreds of pages without losing many readers (just not this one). Second, sequels need to do a fair measure of building character investment so that you don’t lose reader interest if a reader starts in the middle. I want to be clear that this need is for far more than just the plot. There are enough references to the prior book that I wasn’t lost here any more than any other book where we have a rich history of events that characters reference. My major concern is that the author seems to take it at a given that I’m willing to wade through hundreds of pages of nostalgia-like revisits of characters I have no relationship with. I need things to be happening to keep me engaged.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The book cover says it’s the stunning sequel to Foreigner. I would unfortunately put forth that there is nothing stunning about this book. I review this book and rate it so that any who read my reviews can continue to share in my insights, but the reality is that I was unable to even finish it. I stopped about halfway through, and this book marks the first where I have done this. It also rates my first 2 star.
On the one hand, this book had a lot of interesting things going on. We have a character, Bren Cameron, who wakes up from surgery to an urgent need to return back to his post in a country populated entirely by the alien Atevi. He represents humanity’s sole interface with this race of aliens who not only have a different language, but an entirely different way of thinking. Couple this backdrop with two major catalysts: First, while he was gone from the events of the prior book, his human government dispatched and installed a replacement… An inept replacement that now refuses to leave. Second, a human ship with unknown motives has appeared in orbit of this planet of aliens for the first time since humanity appeared on the planet. The situation is ripe for intensity.
And fails to deliver.
After nearly 300 pages, I can summarize the events of the book in probably 6 sentences or less… And with good descriptive language, I probably won’t have left out that much. Absolutely nothing seems to happen. Intensity seems to be limited to the first 20 pages of the book, and then a single scene afterward as we watch the character meet with first one political connection to another as he tries to reestablish his waned authority and calm the Atevi people from the threat they potentially face. The reader faces endless pages that promote glassy eyed re-reads while trying to make sure you didn’t miss something of interest in your desperate attempt to get to something, anything exciting.
Where this book does deliver is in the characterization of our hero, Bren. The Atevi have a fairly uniform (although complex) behavior that vary by only the most subtle differences that wouldn’t be distinctive to any but a die-hard lover of the series; the other humans are flat stereotypes begging for depth that might be realized in another 300 pages. Bren however, is the sole interesting character (which is good, because we spend an awful lot of time alone with his thoughts) that is trying to juggle his human heritage with the Atevi culture he finds himself immersed in. The author cleverly adapts even the mental expressions to be reflected in a way the Atevi think, leveraging their idioms and mental paradigms so that the reader can feel what it is to be alien… but only just so.
I did not read the first story in this series, and perhaps that is my undoing here. Like Dwight Swain’s Scene-Sequel structure, perhaps this book is simply the sequel rest period to a prior books overly intense action. Regardless, it didn’t have enough to keep me going, despite the subtle political relationships promising intrigue. If you watching a human psyche unfold and redefine itself, this book may hold something for you, but don’t hold out for something to happen… At least not in the first 300 pages.