This is the sequel to “Beholder’s Eye.” This is a standard futuristic spacefaring type of story. Humans have, as they tend to do in these stories, spread across the known universe and it’s been so long since the original diaspora that memories of Terra have all but faded; only myth remains. Other species abound and the Human Commonwealth tries to bring a semblance of order and law to the universe.
In the first book, we met Esen-alit-Quar and learned that she is now the last of her kind. After Esen’s web-kin were murdered by another web being and Esen was forced to kill the creature; she and her best and only friend in the universe, Paul Ragem, ran and hid. Paul is the only being in the universe who knows and accepts Esen’s true heritage. Allowing everyone to believe them dead, Esen and Paul found a home in the Fringe and built a life; and fifty quiet and profitable years passed. But the years weren’t quiet or kind to poor driven Kearn. He spent the time continuing his quest to find the Esen-monster and convince the universe that the danger was still there. And when Paul finally convinces Esen to leave the comfort of the world she called home and take a vacation…events conspire to potentially destroy all she loved.
They are drawn into a lovely subplot about an alien race that steals art from another but it’s acceptable because they can’t actually acknowledge that their victims are sentient beings. Kearn’s ship captain appears to support Kearn’s ridiculed search for a monster that everyone believes died but he also has his own agenda and reason to find Esen, and through her…Paul Ragem. Esen had decided the sum total of her life was to be the early warning for an incursion of another web being. The lessons she learned from her elders still hold firm: all life is precious and her reason for being is to protect and preserve. She really couldn’t see any other reason for existence; and she was always aware of how ephemeral Paul’s mortal life was. And once he was gone…she would always be alone. She never intended to reveal herself to another being…ever. She would just continue to monitor space and keep her own counsel…for just as long as it takes.
But in the meantime, Paul persisted in pushing her to new experiences and encouraging her to keep friends. It seemed to her that he didn’t fully grasp the fact that she was immortal and it was all a huge waste of effort. This by-play in their relationship rocks back and forth through the whole novel. Each thinks they are protecting the other and Esen, in her usual inimitable fashion, manages to either brilliantly save the day or cause catastrophic messes.
As I said previously, a good sci-fi tale has a good mystery at its heart; and Czerneda delivers again. Will Kearn actually find Esen and will he be able to destroy her if he does? What prevents the thieving aliens from recognizing their victims as real beings? And there are sinister hints that someone is guiding Kearn and feeding him information. And why is the ship captain, Lefebvre, more concerned over confirming Paul’s death than finding the Esen-monster?
Esen spent most of the first book in a canine-type form, and then as the ultra-perceptive masseuse. This time out she is a fussy large furry-scaled being with a penchant for silk and purses. But the essential Esen is always there although the author overlays her personality with the physiological characteristics and demands of the body she currently uses. This is great ‘color’ for the story allowing Czerneda to show different ways Esen finds to deal with difficulties. There are hints that Paul is thinking himself about his mortality and worrying about Esen being alone. It’s a subtle thing that the author does…we first thought of Esen as a worldly and wise ancient creature in the first book…all the way up to the last page. That’s when we suddenly realize that age is relative and it is abundantly clear to everyone just exactly how old Esen is relatively speaking when she is in Human form. This is a form that she firmly intends to never use in front of Paul; knowing him as she does, she fears how it would change their relationship. I saw it coming but because Esen’s voice is so sophisticated, I didn’t really see it. Czerneda was very sneaky. I also enjoyed the conflicted character of Kearn; noble intentions are often misunderstood when the person is less-than-heroic in appearance or personality.
This was a very satisfying story and the author wrapped up the plotlines very neatly and logically. She did leave a few dangling loose ends but any good writer has to so the reader has a reason to come back. And I will…watch for the final review of this lovely trilogy. ~~ Catherine Book
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