Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Hidden in Sight" by Julie E. Czerneda

Hidden in Sight is the final volume of Julie E. Czerneda's Web Shifters space opera trilogy. Like the other two, Beholder's Eye and Changing Vision, it's a complete story in itself, though the books do need to be read in order.

I read this book while sitting in a hospital all week, so there were plenty of interruptions, and my mind wasn't entirely on the story. But it was a good book for that. Since it's so very long (nearly 500 pages in my paperback copy), I'd been delaying starting it. That's one of the problems with books this big. It takes a real effort to start them. But needing to wait at the hospital gave me the incentive I needed. And since it's the third volume in a trilogy, I already knew most of the characters. So concentration wasn't essential.

In fact, there really wasn't much new at all in Hidden in Sight. Esen, the young (600-year-old) shapechanger, is a delight, as always. And her human companion, Paul, is loyal, caring, and fiercely determined to keep her safe. Czerneda always does a superb job creating characters you care about, and this book is filled with them. But again, we've met most of them before.

As shown in the previous book, Paul and Esen have made a new life running a trading company on Minas XII, their real identities - and Esen's real nature - carefully hidden. Now, though, attacks on their home and business put them on the run. Meanwhile, someone is mining Picco's Moon, where Ersh lived, and is killing Tumblers who get too close.

One thing I like about Czerneda is that her villains tend to be understandable. In fact, often they're not really villains at all, just people doing what they think is right. And her heroes recognize that. That doesn't make the danger any less, but it opens up new opportunities for solutions. It's an intelligent way of thinking, and IMHO, far more plausible than super-villains, serial killers, and the like.

Likewise, her aliens tend to do things for alien reasons. If you understand them, you can understand their actions. They may not be right, they may not be admirable, but there are still reasons. It makes her books seem more plausible to me (even books about 600-year-old shapechangers). And there's a basically optimistic attitude to her novels that I really like.

Once I actually started Hidden in Sight, I had no trouble sticking with it. But I wonder if 500 pages was really necessary. Czerneda can't seem to write short novels, and I think this one is the longest of all. It's really kind of ridiculous, especially as the third volume in a trilogy. And as I say, there's not much that's new here (note that they were even on the run in the previous book, though the circumstances weren't identical). However, we do learn something new about shapeshifters, and the story seems to be a fitting end to the trilogy.

Do I seem to be damning with faint praise? I don't mean to. But I loved Beholder's Eye. And Changing Vision was also lots of fun, while adding a bit to the story. This one is sort of... more of the same. If you liked the previous books, you'll like this one, but it probably won't have the same impact. It's a fitting conclusion, but not something you really need to read (although I did love the very end of the book).

PS. I read the previous two books in the trilogy before I started this blog, so you won't find the reviews here. But you might check out my post on Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy. I really am impressed with her writing ability. Her characters are great, and so are her aliens.

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