Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Intruder" by C.J. Cherryh

(cover from

Intruder is the 13th volume in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, and it doesn't stand alone. If you've been reading the series, you know what to expect. If not, don't start here!  Start with the first, Foreigner. (And let me just note that it's a great series.)

I reviewed the last two books in the series (here and here), and there's no sense in repeating things. If you want to know what the series is about, check my review of Deceiver. I don't want to give away spoilers in these reviews, so there's probably not too much more I can add.

This book concludes a storyline from the last few books. Well, it's a conclusion, though nothing really ends in this series. It's much like real history, in that respect. But Bren Cameron has been negotiating with Machigi, lord of the Taisigin Marid, and this concludes that particular negotiation. (Admittedly, I thought the last book concluded the negotiation, so take all this with a grain of salt.)

It's interesting, though very complicated, but we've seen all this before. There's nothing to this particular negotiation that's significantly different from what Bren Cameron has been doing from the start of the series. And it doesn't tell us anything new about him or about Atevi society in general - or not much.

But there's been a parallel story in the last few books about Cajeiri, the 8-year-old atevi boy and son of Taibini, the leader of the Western Association, and that's very different.

In fact, IMHO, Cherryh should have switched the focus entirely to Cajeiri for the last few books. After all, what more can she tell us about Bren? He's a great character, but we've come to know him and his associates quite well.

With Cajeiri, on the other hand, we're seeing an atevi child grow up. And not just any child, but the leader's heir. This would probably be interesting in any case, but it's especially fascinating because Cherryh's aliens are so different.

What does it mean to be a child in a species where "like" and "love" and "friend" are meaningless concepts? It's not that these aren't good people, but that their instincts are completely alien to us. Instead of friendship, they feel man'chi, which is a hierarchical emotion which humans can't feel (and struggle to even grasp).

Note that man'chi is something you feel, not something you think. It's an instinct, an emotion that's central to atevi society. Children don't love their parents, they feel man'chi to them. And adolescence is just as difficult for them as it is for us, just in different ways.

Now, the series has been absolutely superb at creating a plausible society among people like this, but now Cherryh is showing us how their children grow up, how their feelings change as they grow older, how their future leaders develop that quality of man'chi which attracts support, and how they build a web of associations, which is the basis of their society.

It's fascinating, and it's new. This series isn't just recycling what we already know, and after 13 volumes, that's quite remarkable. Besides, Cajeiri himself is a very appealing character. He's easy to like (even if he can't "like" us back).

Furthermore, the drama at the end of the book is great. This is why C.J. Cherryh is such a beloved author, and this is why the Foreigner series is one of my all-time favorites. Any fan will want to read this book. And if you're not a fan, please give the series a try.

Nevertheless, I really think she should have done things differently. In the last four or five books, I would have preferred she focus almost entirely on Cajeiri, because that's what's been particularly interesting.

She really hasn't had anything new to tell us about Bren Cameron, so why keep telling us what we already know? Why not switch to a new main character entirely - or nearly so? And instead of four or five books, it would have been two.

Well, I can't be too critical, because it's just astonishing that she can write 13 volumes and keep finding new things to tell us at all. And when it comes to Cajeiri, at least, she does that. I think these last few books could have been better, but they're quite good as it is.

Intruder, in particular, is better than the previous book, Betrayer, and has a very good ending (unlike Deceiver). It feels padded, since I was anxious to get past a lot of Bren Cameron's very typical concerns, but I really can't complain.

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