The first book in C.J. Cherryh’s eponymous series, Foreigner begins an epic tale of the survivors of a lost spacecraft who crash-land on a planet inhabited by a hostile, sentient alien race.
From its beginnings as a human-alien story of first contact, the Foreigner series has become a true science fiction odyssey, following a civilization from the age of steam through early space flight to confrontations with other alien species in distant sectors of space. It is the masterwork of a truly remarkable author.
It had been nearly five centuries since the starship Phoenix had become lost in space and had encountered the world of the atevi. On this world where law was kept by registered assassination, war between the humans and atevi was inevitable. Now, 200 years after that conflict, the sole human allowed into atevi society is marked for an assassin’s bullet…
-“Trust was a word you couldn’t translate. But the atevi had fourteen words for betrayal.”
-“Fourteen words, the language had for betrayal, and one of them doubled for ‘taking the obvious course.’
I genuinely don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this book. I put it on my list months ago and quite forgot what it was about. Yet, whatever I was expecting it couldn’t possibly have been what I got. Because what I got was even better than I could have hoped for.
Foreigner is pure political intrigue. It is about trying to avoid war between two people who have to live together due to circumstance, but being incapable of fully understanding each other due to differences in biology. It is about very complex ideas that humans cannot understand, and aliens cannot understand – and there is always misunderstanding. It is about trying to stay alive when people want you dead. And it is about the main character, Bren, being completely and totally out of his depth.
Bren is a political attache to the Atevi from the humans. They call him the paidhi, and he is there to systematically release scientific information slowly to the Atevi, as a condition of a treaty to stop a war between the two races. He has to do it so he doesn’t disrupt the way of life of the Atevi race, so they don’t devolve into war and try to kill each other. Or humans. Yet his personal goal is to get the Atevi to the space age.
Bren is the only human amongst the Atevi. The humans live on an island. And on the mainland, there is a Guild of assassins. Which is where the book opens up – with an assassination attempt on the paidhi’s, on Bren’s, life. An unsanctioned attempted. It devolves from there, basically. Bren is sent to a crotchety old lady, Ilisidi, for safety. Everyone fears Ilisidi because of who she is and the power she can wield. And she is the best. Bren has to navigate the political minefield (mindfield? lol) that is Ilisidi, who happen’s to be the Grandmother of the current ruler of the Atevi. And it is just minefield after minefield and Bren desperately just trying to stay alive and get to the bottom of what the problem truly is.
This book was absolutely perfect for me. Political stories aren’t typically my favourite things. Yet, I couldn’t put this down, and I couldn’t just stop with one book, either. (Or, chance would have it, with 19 books since I read the whole damn series at once and now I have to pay the piper and write all 19 reviews.)
However: is it still infodumping if it takes up half the book? Because that is what it feels like. Especially with those two short stories in the beginning that I highly recommend skipping because it left the book feeling disjointed. There are so many complex topics that Cherryh introduces into the story that it takes forever to set things up so the reader can understand them. Complex topics about the aliens that Bren struggles to understand, and complex topics about humans bren struggles to translate for the aliens. Plus the entirety of the setup for the politics this book is completely about takes a while to lay out because of all the factions.
The infodump went on and on and… I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved figuring out every single piece. I loved the feeling of being completely overwhelmed – because Bren was overwhelmed. I loved this book and I could not wait to read further books.
…Could have done without his musing on his lovelife, though. Just saying.