Julie E. Czerneda,
Ties of Power
(DAW, 1999)

Julie E. Czerneda returns to the Trade Pact universe with Ties of Power.

Since Clanswoman Sira Morgan, formerly known as Sira di Sarc, went into self-imposed exile with her Chosen, the human Jason Morgan, she has been occupied with running the Haven, a space bar and casino, and appearing there as the resident witch. She is not so naive as to believe that the Clan will leave her alone, as she is one of the most powerful of their species, and she has warded her new home well. Still, her cousin, the unChosen Barac sud Sarc, manages to find her. Barac is in his own exile, having been refused for Choice too many times.

At the time of Barac's arrival, Sira is being doggedly pursued by the Makii tribe of the Drapsk, a curious species who wish her to come to their planet to participate in a festival. To the collective Drapsk disappointment, she courteously declines, having made plans to join Morgan on another planet called Pocular, leaving Barac in charge of the Haven.

Sira's stay on Pocular is brief; after a serious assault, in which she is abducted and undergoes mysterious and frightening surgery, she flees through the M'hir, the construct through which the Clan can move through space through the power of their minds, to the Drapsk ship. The Drapsk are delighted to see her, although they reserve themselves enough to see that she gets proper care. Sira finds herself headed to the Drapsk home world as the Makii contestant for their Festival. To Sira's dismay and annoyance, the Drapsk refuse provide details about the competition, and she tries several times to leave, but finds that it is impossible.

Meanwhile, Morgan is trying to track down those responsible for the assault on Sira, aided at various times by Huido, owner of the famed restaurant Claws and Jaws located on Plexis, the intergalactic shopping mall, and Barac. Sira, on her own, is also tracking down her attackers with the Drapsk and a pair of reptilian Scats lending a hand. What Morgan and Sira discover is horrifying, but their trials bring them closer than either of them -- or the Clan -- ever dreamed.

Once again, Czerneda spins a tale that engrosses the reader from start to finish. Her characters grow and develop, adding subtle dimension to their personalities, and she has a remarkable knack for conceiving of and describing alien cultures. The Drapsk are a wonderful invention, with their olfactory communications transmitted through feathery plume-like antennae which also tend to express their moods, and Czerneda makes you see them. The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful, with generous dollops of humor that leaven the story and keep the characters from taking themselves entirely too seriously.

In many novels, science fiction branches away from its high-tech roots into telling good stories set against a futuristic, technology based backdrop, and furthermore, some of the best writers in this particular branch are women, previously rare to the genre. Ursula LeGuin is undoubtedly the Queen of such science fiction, but with Ties of Power, as well as her other books, Czerneda is assuredly one of the new authors to take on the mantle.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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