Deceiver: Foreigner #11
by C.J. Cherryh
Cover Artist: Todd Lockwood
Review by EJ McClure
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756406011
Date: 04 May 2010 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Deceiver, the 11th novel in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, has little new territory to explore, but Cherryh fans will enjoy rejoining Bren Cameron for the latest installment of his adventures. Deceiver picks up two days after Conspirator, and although Bren spends a good deal of time reflecting on those events during the early chapters of Deceiver, those who have not read the previous book will likely feel a bit overwhelmed because the cast of characters has grown over the years as the story arc has become ever more complex and intriguing.
At its heart the Foreigner series is a classic SF tale of the human descendants of a lost spaceship struggling for survival on a planet dominated by a highly intelligent alien species, the atevi. Bren Cameron began the series as the only human authorized to live on the atevi mainland in his role as the interlocutor between the human colony on the island of Mospheri and the atevi government headed by the charismatic statesman, Tabini. Over the ten subsequent novels, Bren survived assassination attempts and civil war, broke up with his girlfriend Barbara, gained a lover among the atevi, lost his mother, voyaged into space with Tabini's son and heir, Cajeiri, and returned to thwart yet more plots against Tabini's rule. To survive in his precarious position, Bren has adapted so well to the atevi culture that his human ties have became increasingly attenuated.
Cherryh's forte is her handling of cross-cultural conflicts, which she does by tying her narrative to those things her point-of-view character would know, think and feel. So as Bren became immersed in the political machinations of Tabini's court, the Assassins Guild, and other Associations of the Western Alliance, he inevitably lost some of his value as the outsider with whom readers can identify with to interpret the atevi to humans. Cherryh cleverly turns this dilemma upside down by giving a strong narrative line to Cajeiri in Deceiver.
Cajeiri spent his formative years on a spaceship, immersed in human friendships and technology under Bren's tutelage, but on returning to his homeworld he finds himself verging on adolescence without the benefit of an instinctive understanding of manchi, that sense of place and honor, that knits Associations of atevi together. Yet he is smart enough to realize without the ability to command the manchi of others, he will not survive to inherit the mantle of aiji of the Western Association from his father. Cajeiri thus assumes Bren's former role of serving as the lens through which the reader deciphers the subtle twists of the atevi psyche.
The plot is one of atevi manners and political machination based on a complex conspiracy aimed at undermining Tabini’s rule. There are the requisite assassination attempts, felicitous escapes, and bold counter-strokes, punctuated by delicious verbal fencing and the occasional emotional passage. As is her wont, Cherryh deftly evokes an alien landscape and society with her well-placed details about food, clothing, architecture and local customs at Najida, the remote coastal feifdom Tabini gave Bren in an earlier novel. It is clear that cultural contamination is far advanced, as the numerology-obsessed atevi have assimilated human technology as rapidly as they could get hold of it, often in surprising ways… with escalating repercussions on the feudal atevi society reminiscent of the social upheaval during the Meiji Restoration in Japan.
Devoted readers will be delighted to be reunited with the indomitable Ilisidi, Tabini's grandmother—a formidable ruler and politician in her own right—along with the jovial but shrewd Lord Geigi, Bren’s well-intentioned and naïve younger brother Toby, his former girlfriend Barbara, and the stalwart foursome that comprise Bren's bodyguard, Banichi, Jago, Algini and Tano, all members of the formidable and mysterious Assassins Guild. Unfortunately for them, this is clearly the middle book of a trilogy, and it ends in a proper cliffhanger, so they'll have to wait for the next novel in the series to satisfy their curiosity.