Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh

Synopsis: It been nearly five centuries since the starship Phoenix, lost in space and desperately searching for the nearest G5 star, had encountered the planet of the atevi. On the alien world, law was kept by the use of registered assassination, alliances were defined by individual loyalties not geographical boarders, and war became inevitable once humans and one faction of atevi established a working relationship. It was war that humans had no chance of winning on this planet so many light-years from home. Now, nearly two hundred years after that conflict, humanity has traded its advanced technology for peace and an island refuge that no atevi will ever visit. Then the sole human the treaty allows into atevi society is marked for assassin's bullet. The work of an isolated lunatic?...The interests of a particular faction?...Or the consequences of one human's fondness for a species which has fourteen words betrayal and not a single word for love? (from the back of the book)

Review: C.J. Cherryh is an author one constantly comes across in used book shops and library sales. She is a prolific and much-lauded sci-fi/fantasy author, with a plethora of awards on her shelf. And yet, I had never read her. So when an Instragram acquaintance hosted a First Author Contact read of her novel, Foreigner, in April, I eagerly signed up.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I had my doubts early on, as it took me about a third of the way in to get hooked. Being used to more action based stories, I found the excessive amount of time spent listening to Bren think a bit tedious. His endless questions and self-doubt and circles of thought – after a while, I wanted to just shout, “Do something, stupid!” He spent so much time waiting for something to happen instead of seeking out the answers. But towards the end, I began to understand that Bren was a diplomat and a culture attaché – not detective or solider. Cherryh writing had him stay true to who he was – and I admired that, even if it annoyed me.
Her world-building is fantastic. Cherryh draws the reader into the alien world of the atevi, making it feel both foreign and yet, accessible through her descriptions. Each of the atevi characters felt complex, products of that culture, and not just humans in disguise. Through Bren, we learned the intricate code of loyalty, or man’china – who is loyal to whom, and what level of loyalty. Cherryh accurately captures what is like to live in a culture not one’s own, where the rules are unknown or barely understood, where priorities in one do not exist in the other, where words, gestures, and actions mean entirely different things. Bren isolation, confusion, and fatigue reminded me of my own time overseas.
As the book progresses, the mystery of who wants Bren dead grow, becoming a convoluted tangle of characters and actions. It was here that the story shifted from Bren’s internal musings to his thoughts on the actions around him. It was here we see the atevi at the most – foreign, and yet, when they are most like a people humans might connect with.
Thought the mystery is answered in the end, many more questions appear -just as one would expect from the first book in a trilogy (a trilogy that is the first in a set of seven trilogies, which are still being published).
While I am not certain I will continue with this story arc (being that there are at least twenty-one books to read), I certainly will continue to read Cherryh. Her writing intrigues me and I’m eager to read more of her work. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: Shortlisted for the Locus Award in 1995

ISBN: 0-88677-637-6
Year Published: 1994
Date Finished: 4-19-2016
Pages: 427

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