Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: C.J. Cherryh

Published: 2009

Reviewed: 2009-08-10

Publisher: DAW

It is with great sadness that I find I must call this book out. As
you, my dear reader, may already know, I am a long-time fan of
C.J. Cherryh, and particularly of her "Foreigner" series, of which
this book is the tenth. But "Conspirator" was a real disappointment
to me, and I've struggled to figure out just why.

Nothing bad has happened to the quality of the prose, of course, nor
the detailed richness with which Ms. Cherryh paints her worlds. But
Cajieri, the young prince, is once again central to the story and
lending his viewpoint on occasion. So that, I find, is a strike
against the book immediately. He's kind of a "Scrappy Doo" character,
adding pseudo-charming chaos to events just by his very presence, and
confounding the best attempts of his elders to keep him in check. So
that's a piece of annoyance just to begin with.

Letting parts of the story be told from his viewpoint, though, I feel
breaks one of the fundamental premises of the entire "Foreigner"
series. In its beginning, we have humans and aliens, unintendedly
sharing a planet, and their basic social wiring is just plain
different from one another. Things translate just slightly wrong, and
a human can no more feel "man'chi" than an atevi can feel "love", so
unrestricted contact tends to screw up very badly. For all of the
first eight books, we were locked solidly into the perspective of Bren
Cameron, the one human translator allowed onto from the human-occupied
island of Mospheira onto the atevi mainland.

One of the things that made the series really work was that throughout
it all, Bren could have his human misinterpretations of what was going
on around him come and bite in unexpected ways, shift the landscape
and cause him to see that he had always been wrong about some concept
in translation. Then every bit of perspective would shift slightly,
to a point where past events made more sense. This, for me, was
probably the biggest long-term draw of the series. So introducing
Cajieri's perspective really loses something, because it means there
can be no more mysteries: we, the readers, get to see inside an atevi
head, and it's not as different from ours as it used to seem.

By the opening of "Conspirator," Bren basically seems to have figured
out atevi too. The conflict now seems to be the fact that he's slowly
going native, and losing the human side of the interface. We get an
excellent setup for exploring this, with him leaving for vacation to
the sea-side and to meet his brother. Then Scrappy Doo, I mean
Cajieri, hops a train to go join him, the world takes note, and we're
back to atevi politics as usual.

I feel like Toby, Bren's long-suffering brother, having been put off
once again for a piece of Important World Politics. That storyline
pushes all the other pieces out of the way, and I ended up feeling
subtly betrayed, because the story never comes back there. I think
that in the end, it's not so much Cajieri that bugs me---he's just a
convenient target on which to vent my spleen. Rather, there's a
violation of the fundamental authorial choice of when to start and end
a story: the start is chosen in a way that really invites me in to
Bren's personal conflicts, and the novel carries those along
throughout the rest of the story, but as the political plot takes
over, they submerge and in the end are not resolved: the political
plot hits its milestone, and chop, the book just ends, leaving me

This is not to say it's not a well-done book. It disappoints me as
could only a novel where my expectations are already very high. But
Ms. Cherryh has missed the mark on this one, when all it would have
taken is a few more pages in which we could have followed Bren's
thoughts and feelings back out of political mode and into the
questions that started off the book. Maybe this could have replaced a
bit of Cajieri? I'll await the next, of course, which is promised by
how this one resolves, but with less fervor than before.