By C.J. Cherryh
© 1994, 2004, DAW
Kindle version; file size 927 KB
Five centuries after humans, lost in space and desperate for a world of their own, land on the planet of the atevi, and nearly two centuries after the War of the Landing, atevi and humans share an uneasy peace. With no way to leave, humans live confined to a single island and trade technology for continued presence in their sheltered refuge. The sole human allowed inside atevi society, Bren has allowed himself to grow fond of his atevi contacts—until he is marked for assassination. Cut off from his own government, Bren has no idea what’s going on and no way to possibly understand why this is happening, especially with the atevi, who have fourteen words for “betrayal” and not a single word for “trust.”
This is an amazing book, and a fabulous beginning to what promises to be a captivating series. It’s been out for nearly two decades, and Cherryh is still writing additional volumes, but it was my first time finding it. And what a find it is. I was blown away by the twists and turns in the plot, the intelligence with which it is constructed, the imaginative setting that landed the humans in this predicament, and the otherworldly society Cherryh has created.
The whole tale unfolds in third person from Bren’s point of view, so the reader only knows as much as Bren does. As Bren’s confusion grows through the development of the story and the unfolding of the plot, he becomes more unreliable as a narrator; his emotions, normally kept in check among the atevi who do not feel or understand human sentiments, drive him farther from stability on every page until he is convinced he is losing his mind. While this was, on occasion, a bit confusing for me as a reader, I came to realize that was part of the story, that slow and careful diverting of expectation and predictability. I didn’t figure out what was going on until Bren did, and it was a spectacular twist that I did not see coming.
Told, as it is, from the perspective of a single human living among members of a species whose logic and reasoning Bren might never fully understand, Foreigner felt to me like a strong and fascinating commentary on the lack of understanding between races in our own world, or even the understanding between humans and other species here on Earth. That gap may never be fully bridged, though we must—as Bren did—keep trying.
It should be stated that Foreigner is not an easy read. This twisty, multi-layered, complex storyline requires an engaged mind and full focus in order to follow all the many threads and be able to pull them together into a meaningful image when the final twist is revealed.
I must admit that when I started Foreigner, I didn’t plan to read the other books, a plan based solely on available time. There are currently 22 books in this series, and Cherryh is still adding to that canon. Now that I’ve been so deftly and beautifully sucked into that world, though, I have changed my mind. The next book is already loaded on my Kindle and awaiting my attention. Most highly recommended for anyone who loves intelligent, well-written science fiction and space opera.