After enjoying reading A Thousand Words for Stranger last month, I bought the second book in the series, Ties of Power. Usually it takes me much longer than this to get to a sequel, but I’ve been in the mood for SF lately, so I picked it up and read it this month.
At the end of A Thousand Words for Stranger, Sira and Morgan went into partially voluntary exile to avoid the further machinations of the Clan Council as they seek to control Sira’s enormous power. While on the planet Pocular, Sira is attacked, presumably by a member of the Clan. While Morgan, goaded by Sira’s rage, goes in pursuit of the perpetrators, Sira takes refuge with a group of Drapsk, members of a little known and secretive species. Sira finds herself caught up in the Drapsk’s Festival Contest and learns that there are other races that know of the M’hir, a place that is more complicated and strange than the Clan have ever imagined.
Rather like A Thousand Words for Stranger, I felt myself somewhat tossed in the deep end at the beginning of this book. I couldn’t figure out just what was going on or how anything related to anything else and was worried about my enjoyment of the story. Happily, things started to straighten out fairly quickly, and while Czerneda kept me guessing, I felt less and less in the dark as the book continued.
The layout of the story is the same as in the previous book, with first person POV chapters from Sira and “interludes” in between her chapters with third person POV depicting the action happening to other characters. This allows Czerneda to stick with Sira’s thought processes (always interesting as she still hasn’t fully integrated her two personalities yet) and adventures, while still letting the wider story be told. Since she split up her main characters for most of the book this was a necessity, as there is no way she could have told the entire tale from Sira’s POV without losing much of the story. However, with 61 chapters and almost as many interludes, this made for short reading sections, which aren’t really my favourite way to read.
The mystery of the Drapsk and its slow reveal was, well, slow, but still very interesting. As a biologist, Czerneda excels at creating alien races (even if, not being a visual reader, I couldn’t quite picture what most of them looked like) and the Drapsk were well done. As a species that communicates by olfactory messages (although they can vocalise in the common ComSpeak as well), their “com system” on their space ships consists of moving air currents and they have a tendency to curl into little balls (I imagined little feathery hedgehogs at this point) when over-stressed. Sadly, their technology isn’t as well realised as their biology, but whether this is limited by the imagination of the author or the fact it is all viewed through Sira’s eyes remains a mystery.
Sira and Morgan’s relationship is kind of stalled over the course of the book. Firstly, Sira remains afraid that her power could hurt or possibly even kill Morgan, so while she drills him relentlessly in defence, she also refuses any further physical or emotional closeness. Secondly, they are apart for most of the book, although desperately missing each other. Ironically, it is Sira’s self-growth through her time with the Drapsk that provides the solution rather than further development and interaction between the two of them, sure proof this is a science-fiction novel where the relationship is important but not primary.
The situation with the Clan reaches an end-point at the end of this novel, I assume leaving the next book open for Sira to work on the problem of escalating Clan power (something for which she may now have an explanation) and their potential extinction.
I found this an easier book to read than A Thousand Words for Stranger (although I liked Stranger a bit more than this one) and I suspect that is because the complicated biological and genetic issues of the Clan, which are a fundamental part of the story, have been explained already and it is lesser description of the Drapsk that takes centre stage in this novel. Certainly, I didn’t find myself needing to mark up copious passages of text as I did with the previous novel.
A solid continuation of the series, Ties of Power is a good social/biological SF read (machinery and technology is all drawn with much broader strokes and is less important). If that appeals and you liked A Thousand Words for Stranger, then I recommend continuing the series. I don’t know quite when I’ll get to it (having just signed up for a fantasy challenge so I’ll be focussing on that for a while) but I’ll definitely be getting the last book in the trilogy. I’ll probably eventually get to the prequel trilogy as well.
Ties of Power
Julie E. Czerneda
Trade Pact, Book 2