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Hidden in Sight
Web Shifters #3
by Julie E. Czerneda
Daw, $14.00, 493pp
Published: November 2016

This is the final story in this trilogy.  See the link below for reviews of the first two books. 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.  In the second book, we gain a better understanding of Esen’s nature…and her age.  And Kearn turned out to be less a villain and more a hero.  The ‘next’ villain was hinted at but remained shadowy. And Esen, much to her discomfort, found that her personal web of just her and Paul had grown without her knowledge.  She had to trust that Paul trusted the right people with her secrets but it’s very, very hard to do…without doing her own investigations.

This story starts with Esen reminiscing with Paul about her growing up on Picco’s Moon with Ersh and her web-kin.  It re-familiarizes us with the native Tumblers and Ersh’s preferred form; which then sets the stage for a classic miscommunication between species.  The Tumblers discover flesh-creatures (the Tumblers are mineral creatures) disturbing Ersh’s mountain, which is privately owned (by Esen) and revered/respected by the Tumblers.  The Tumblers make formal protest which is drastically misunderstood by flesh-creatures and causes a type of gold-rush effect.  Instead of the unwanted flesh-creatures leaving, the moon is inundated with even more of them.  The poor Tumblers, at a loss how to communicate, do the only thing they can think of:  they contract for mercenary Ganthors to eradicate the moon.

Meanwhile, someone knows who and what Esen is, and is hunting for her. Paul and Esen find themselves in a dangerous crossfire of two angry Ganthor herds and they figure out very quickly that it is no coincidence that it happened right when they were in that particular bar.  When they tried to return home only to find it destroyed, they ended up hiding in their warehouse office.  Things did not go well and Esen, unfortunately, was forced to show her true self to the one being that she swore would never see her thus:  their dearest friend Joel Largas.  Joel and his family had been attacked by the web-monster in the previous story and still bore the emotional scars.  Unlike the others in Paul’s Group who knew Esen for what she was and were sworn to protect her, Joel now only wanted to kill her.  So, now forced from all they knew, they jumped the first ship and ran. 

Esen took them to a charming locale that was so remote, she was sure their mysterious hunter would never find them.  This was a fun ride filled with some very…interesting…ideas about inter-species relationships.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t remote enough and the enemy found them.  Forced into a confrontation, Esen had to decide whether to give up her deepest secret or allow Paul to come to harm.  But things didn’t go as planned and their enemy became their responsibility in a really strange turn of events.  But Esen, in her inimitable style, found the strength to remain true to herself despite the temptation to remove the threat to Paul.  Esen, above all her other traits, reveres all life and seeks to protect all life.

They all end up back on Picco’s Moon where everything started.  This was Esen’s childhood home but also the end of Ersh and the enemy now knows that Esen holds the last of Ersh’s secrets and it wants them.  But Picco’s Moon is under the threat of war from the advancing horde of Ganthor mercenaries and there’s nowhere to hide; Ganthors are well-known for being very efficient in their destruction.  And the Tumblers just want everyone to go home; without understanding what they’ve unleashed – probably their own destruction, as well.  Esen, who spent much her life as a Lischyn who is an expert in inter-species communication, finds that she may be the only to understand both the Tumblers and the Ganthor and be able to defuse the situation.

Kearn has a place in this story, as well.  Since that last book, Kearn has had a drastic change of focus; instead of hunting the Esen-monster, he now strives to do his part to protect her.  But he may be responsible for creating the next generation of monster-hunters – right under his nose.  His newest assistant, Cristoffen, has embraced the monster-hunting with a fervor that is obsessive…and, like Kearn, has a mysterious benefactor feeding him information.  His collusion with the mystery benefactor may prove quite fatal to not only members of Paul’s Group, but Esen, herself.  Kearn has grown so much as a character, one would hardly recognize him from book one to book three.  His character has gone from a whiney, weasely fanatic to confident, reasonable almost-hero.  He is the author’s reflection of Esen’s influence as is the final resolution with their one-time, now murderous, friend, Joel Largas.  It’s a great plot device.

Again, Czerneda keeps a lot of balls in the air until the very end and she’s quite adept at it.  The plot was all:  complex without ever losing the reader and satisfying.  The characters, particularly Esen and her enemy, were all a reader could hope for:  complex yet understandable and relatable.  And the ending included a happy resolution for at least one character – with what felt like the overall resolution of the whole trilogy:  inter-species understanding is key to peace.

Loved the whole trilogy and wish there was more Esen to come…oh, wait!  There is… ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles in this series click here
For more books by Jule Czerneda click here

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