Ah, yes, yet another from the prolific Cherryh. I had given up in disgust after rereading the appalling Tripoint, vowing to never sully my eyes with another word of hers (well, maybe I’d look at the Morgaine series again which got me started on her), but a friend with a staggeringly huge personal library urged me to give her another go with this one.
I didn’t really change my mind for the first half of the book. It wasn’t as patently bad as Tripoint (and curious that both books were written in 1994 – bang goes my theory that she must have jumped the shark at some point. Maybe she was just overdoing it – I notice Faery in Shadow was written in ’94 too!), but still had her signature of clueless lead character, casting about in frustration in the dark, never knowing if his best efforts are making things worse or better. I can see that this is a relief from the all to common one-dimensional self-assured fantasy heroes, but I find Cherryh overplays this painful indecisiveness (never more so than in the superlatively tiresome Rusalka). Moreover the pace was pretty vapid – I was quite happy to put the book down after only a few pages at a time, it didn’t really get me in.
However, about half-way/two-thirds of the way in I found I was getting more into turning the pages. There were some clever things going on in the relationship between Tristen and Cefwyn (although I was a bit worried she was going to go totally Guinevere with Ninévrisë for a while there), some moderate insights on the conundrums of power. She also managed to build up some of Tristen’s character in detailing interactions he has with men (and horses!), rather than just telling us he was charismatic and good with animals. This was something I liked in Cukoo’s Egg, (and in Card’s Ender’s Game) – it’s so much better when a writer demonstrates the traits of her characters rather than just assuming them.
(Spoiler) The climax was as good as many a fantasy series: that is to say it was yet another last minute mystical insight where the hero in some oogedy-boogedy flapdoodle discovers the way to their invincible inner power (“Ah, yes, if I just bring across some light from ‘the grey place’ … there we go”). Ho-hum, you’ve got to get there some way, and I’ve seen it done worse.
So, OK, while I wouldn’t say it won me back, it at least gained grudging acknowledgment from a hostile reader.