Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review of Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh

Betrayer (2011) confirms it. Conspirator-Deceiver-Betrayer rights the Foreigner ship by presenting what I believe to be the real third trilogy—a re-writing of Destroyer-Pretender-Deliverer. Where those three novels wavered in focus and quality compared to the first two trilogies, Conspirator-Deceiver-Betrayer gives us more of what made the original Foreigner books so interesting: conflict around Otherness in a new context that advances the story without getting caught in its own shoelaces. I offer Betrayer as the final proof.

With matters in the west up in the air, Betrayer finds Bren being sent on the most important diplomatic mission he’s ever been sent on Atevi. It’s so important, in fact, even Cajeri, who had occupied full chunks of narrative in Conspirator and Deceiver takes a slight backseat. More importantly, Barb-drama takes a full back seat. She’s still there, and still part of the action, but is not allowed to be the Barb people don’t want her to be. I don’t want to spoil the story any further, except to say that the mission Bren is sent on reintroduces the Foreigness I recall from the first trilogy, but in a re-contextualized way that is all the more interesting for it.

Yes, to say what precisely Bren’s mission in Betrayer is would spoil matters (be careful what reviews you read), but suffice to say it puts him in the enemy’s camp. And it’s here that Cherryh’s real talents reveal themselves. The degrees of nuance she pulls out of her fictional culture are amazing. Not imaginative animals or trees, rather, the degrees of civilized diplomacy that decide the fates of peoples and lands, and can so easily lead to war with the wrong choice of words are evident. Addressing issues indirectly without being vague. Ne-go-ti-a-tion. Hard, hard negotiation. Amazing.

If it’s not apparent, Betrayer is for me the best Foreigner book since Invader the 2nd. Bren’s conversations and Cherryh’s framing of them are why I fell in love with the Foreigner books to begin with. With a major new alliance in place, it will be extremely interesting to see what conflicts and tension arise from split manchi…

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