I've been meaning to get to this series for a while. I've never read anything by C.J. Cherryh, and I know this series is extremely popular (I think there are, like, 15 books out in it so far), so I figured I'd start here.
Premise: Something happens to one of our first deep-space colonization ships and it ends up lost. After barely managing to reach a safe planet that could sustain the colonists, it's discovered that the planet is inhabited. But it's too late. There isn't enough fuel remaining to go anywhere else. So some of the scientists/colonists decide to land regardless ... and so we have first contact with an alien culture that is uniquely different from ours, one where assassination is an accepted form of social climbing and there are no clearly marked borders. There are only associations ... and the fact that we bring with us technology that we must parcel out in order to retain even a toehold on the planet.
The book started off a little rough with some initial set-up with large time jumps before we get to Bren, the main character for the rest of the book. Once we get to Bren, though, the book takes off with an illegal assassination attempt (or so it seems) being made on Bren. No one has filed the paperwork required for the attempt. So what does it mean? Who could have done it? And why did they try to kill Bren?
These questions drive the first part of the story, as Bren tries to figure out why his unique role as the representative of humanity amidst the alien atevi has made him a target. And then Tabini--Bren's strongest atevi ally--sends Bren off to the far reaches of the planet, where no human has been allowed, and the plot only deepens. At this point, the book bogs down a bit as Bren tries to figure out what's going on while trapped in a place with no technology he can access. He's stuck with Tabini's relative, Ilisidi, who may be the one trying to kill him. It's here that we're supposed to be delving deeper into the atevi world and culture, to see how different it is from our own, as Bren struggles to understand the atevi and their actions himself.
Overall, an interesting set-up and an interesting culture and a unique take on aliens. I simply felt it was slow in the middle, with a mostly uncertain plot direction, before it appeared to find its footing again and take off at the end. Definitely a good read. I'll be reading the sequels to see where Cherryh takes us with this world and culture ... and with Bren.
Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate