(cover image from Amazon.com)
The first book I ever read by Julie E. Czerneda was A Thousand Words for Stranger (1997), the first in her Trade Pact Universe trilogy (now, part of The Clan Chronicles, as is this book).
It was lots of fun. I quickly read the following two volumes, then other books by Czerneda. She's now one of my very favorite authors. (See my review of her Species Imperative trilogy.)
But when I heard she'd written a prequel to that Trade Pact trilogy, it just didn't sound appealing, for some reason. I guess prequels never sound particularly appealing to me. But I really should learn to trust my favorite authors. :)
Reap the Wild Wind (2007) is the first volume in her Stratification trilogy (yeah, she seems to do everything in threes) and part of The Clan Chronicles. But the Clan call themselves the Om'ray in this one. They share a planet with two other species and know nothing of the wider universe.
In fact, they see their universe as existing only where they can sense other Om'ray mentally. And nothing ever changes on Cersi. That's by treaty, in fact. The three species live together in peace through very specific rules. Change is prohibited.
Aryl Sarc is a young Om'ray in Yena Clan, a community built high above a swamp in huge rastis trees. No one ever leaves, or arrives, except for the rare young men on Passage, drawn to marry into other clans (if they can survive the dangerous trek).
It's a fascinating environment, and a very odd one, but it's all Aryl has ever known and all she expects to ever know. She realizes that other Clans must live differently (she can sense them and point directly to them, if asked), but it's nothing that will ever concern her. Women don't go on Passage, and even for men, it's rare.
(To a much lesser extent, we also see the life of Enris of Tuana Clan, a young metalworker whose environment couldn't be more different. Of course, we know those two will meet up at some point, and they're both very appealing characters.)
What no Om'ray knows is that there's a wider universe out there. In particular, there's the Trade Pact, a peaceful galactic society of multiple alien species. And Trade Pact explorers have discovered Cersi, unwittingly causing disaster for Yena Clan and changing a world where change is strictly prohibited.
Even worse, some of those Trade Pact explorers are human beings - people who look exactly like the Om'ray, but don't exist to the Om'ray's mental powers. The Om'ray are used to bizarre aliens, but not to something which looks so familiar, but isn't real, by their other senses.
Czerneda has the knack of writing likable characters. We quickly care about Aryl and Enris both. We care what happens to them and to the people they care about. That's probably the main reason I love her books.
And no one in Yena Clan has ever expected change. As far as they know, Om'ray life has always been that way and always will be. Indeed, they work very hard to make sure nothing changes even by accident. So when change is forced upon them, you can't help but admire their courage and their determination. These are people we care about.
In addition, Czerneda - who was trained as a biologist - has created a fascinating ecology here (not to mention some great aliens). Well, the previous trilogy was filled with great aliens, too!
Other than that, this is science fiction about psychic powers - not my favorite theme, perhaps, but a classic one in science fiction. Consider it fantasy if you want - it's certainly not science - but it has a long, respected pedigree in science fiction.
But what you get here is a book about people. They're people with strange powers in an exotic setting, but they're still people. That's the focus of Reap the Wild Wind. Don't expect great SF ideas. This is character-based fiction.
But it's very entertaining. I can't wait to continue the story with Riders of the Storm.
Note: My review of the next volume is here.