97 points, 5 stars
In the wake of civil war, Bren Cameron, the brilliant human diplomat of the alien atevi civilization, has left the capital and sought refuge at his country estate, Najida. But now he is trapped inside Najida—which has been surrounded by enemies—with Ilisidi, the powerful grandmother of his ally, Tabini-aiji, atevi leader of the Western Association. But Ilisidi, the wily and dangerous aiji-dowager, is not inclined to be passive, and in a brazen maneuver sends Bren into enemy territory, to the palace of Machigi, the leader of the rebels.
Bren’s mission is to negotiate with Machigi—a young atevi lord who has never actually seen a human—and somehow persuade him to cease his hostile actions against the West. Bren knows that the autocratic Machigi rules a fractious clan, and that his hospitality is not guaranteed. Bren’s genius for negotiation enable him to make a daring trade offer to Machigi—one that seems to interest the young warlord. But Machigi is suspicious of Ilisidi’s motives, and, to Bren’s utter shock, evokes an ancient law that jeopardizes Bren’s life. Can Bren stay alive and not alienate Ilisidi or Tabini, while also representing the interests of their enemy?
The world was getting scary. That was the truth. And it was moving fast. And it wasn’t a good morning. Not at all.
And Bren is square in the middle of it. Pulled in many directions at once. He feels responsible for this war that has, as of now, broken out a second time. It has been a very hard year, the sides are complicated and they’re all in it for different reasons. And it all feels aimed at Bren. He feels that he is responsible for why it started. He feels like he should have been able to prevent it. He worries over his people, especially since he is now a Lord and land-owner.
He is an anxiety-ridden mess. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It doesn’t help that he is in enemy territory on a mission of diplomacy between two people who historically have not been allies, without much guidance, and not strictly under the direction of the one who is the ultimate ruler of the world. Which means Tabini doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. It doesn’t help that armed forces want to kill him. And it definitely doesn’t help that he has had to flee enemy territory for his own safety across rugged terrain while being injured.
This, at its roots, is pure politics. Sure there is a whole bunch of action. Sure, he spends a large portion of this book running for his life. Yet this is pure Atevi politics, with a human trying to navigate his way through waters that will kill him if he takes a single step out of bounds. And he doesn’t have much of a guide for help. He has his job, which has prepared him for this. But nothing can prepare you for thinking Atevi if you’re human.
This was awesome.
BUT WHY WOULD YOU END THERE?! ARGH!
These books kill me. First they start. Then they are great. And I don’t want to stop reading. And then they have the fucking audacity to end. Who does that to another person?