Snare by Katharine Kerr
Tor HCVR: ISBN0312890451 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Victoria McManus
508 pages List price $27.95
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Katharine Kerr, author of the well-received twelve volume
veers away from Celtic fantasy with Snare, a science fiction novel set on
the titular planet. Kerr's world, populated by the distant descendants of
Islamic fundamentalists who co-exist uneasily with two other human cultural
groups and native aliens, is revealed by her lush, detailed style. The
source cultures have changed and divided over time, sometimes bearing little
resemblance to their roots except for flavor; for example, the Islamic
Khanate reminded me far more of the early Islamic period in African and the
Middle East than of present-day Islamic countries. This is a novel of
political intrigue and personal discovery, set outside of our reality.
The humans of Snare live in lush enclaves set apart from harsh desert ruled
by the alien Cha'Meech, sentient vaguely insectoid beings who survive as
nomads. The Islamic Khanate seem to be the largest population group; the
Vranz (speakers of a form of French) and the nomadic Comnee are smaller
groups that prove important to the plot. Fundamental conflicts of the novel
are based on the cultural values of settled peoples versus those of nomads.
In the end, it is the mixing of cultures that provides the greatest
Captain Idres Warkannan and Lubahva Shiraz, a musician and "palace girl,"
are part of a conspiracy to unseat the despotic Gemet Great Khan in favor of
the pretender Jezro, who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Gemet's
secret police, the Chosen Ones. Kerr eases the reader into a conspiracy of
astonishing complexity, in which the point-of-view characters sometimes
assume the methods of the tyrant to achieve their aims. The "sorcerer" Yarl
Soutan adds to the moral ambiguities; his terrible power is knowledge of
advanced technology from the colonists' distant ancestors, and he will
stretch the bounds of society to preserve and extend his knowledge.
The Jezro plotline is balanced by a journey of discovery made by the Spirit
Rider Ammadin and exiled Khanate officer Zayn Hassan. Ammadin, the
strongest woman character in the novel, searches for the roots of the humans
on Snare and of her own magic. She accomplishes her goal with the aid of a
Vranz woman named Loy Millou and one of the Cha'Meech. Zayn, a man of many
masks, searches for his own identity, first through a vision quest, then
through self-change as he becomes one with Ammadin's people, the comnee.
Both Ammadin and Zayn prove to be important in joining together the various
human and alien factions.
Snare is not Kerr's first venture into science fiction; she is also the
author of Polar City Blues and
Freeze Frames. Except for certain
technological elements and the presence of aliens, Snare reads like a
densely imagined fantasy or the best science fiction - there are no lumps of
scientific information dumped in for the sake of erudition. As the novel
progresses, technology is interwoven more tightly into the plot. The parts
of Snare connect so smoothly, they seem to have grown organically. It's an
intriguing world to let yourself be lost in.