by C. J. Cherryh
DAW, 1999, ISBN 0-88677-836-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is the fourth book in the "Foreigner" series, picking up three years after the end of Inheritor. Bren Cameron has settled into his new position as a member of the aiji's government and not a representative of the human government of Mospheira; Jason Graham has become fluent in Ragi and reasonably comfortable, both with the atevi and with being on a planet. Bren's family is able to visit him at his private estate on the mainland.
This is way too comfortable for anyone to be in a Cherryh novel, so of course things start changing on the first page--before the first page, in fact, as Cherryh dumps us into the middle of Things Changing Unpleasantly. The captains of Phoenix, having recalled their paidhi (translator/diplomat) from Mospheira on the last shuttle trip, are now recalling Jason Graham from the atevi mainland, too. Tabini, the aiji of the Western Association, has decided to respond by granting immediately the request of the Mospheira government to send a delegation up on the shuttle (the Mospheirans had expected that this would take a year or so to approve), and to send Bren up as well.
Bren is informed of this the day he returns from a rather trying visit to Mospheira, where his family is as clueless and difficult as always.
In short order, Bren and his household are on the long-abandoned and only partially restored space station, with their only potential allies the Mospheiran delegation, the head of which is a member of the Heritage Party, the political party which opposes cooperation with the atevi. Jason and the other Pilots' Guild translator, Yolanda Mercheson, are incommunicado, "in conference with the captains" whenever Bren tries to reach either of them. A promising start to the negotiations with the senior captain, Ramirez, is followed by confusion, delay, and a battle of wits in which the captains attempt to completely isolate Bren, and Bren and his household resist this, attempting to keep contact with the atevi shuttle crew and build an alliance with the Mospheirans, as well as make contacts among the Phoenix crew. As might be expected with Cherryh, things get really bad before they get better. Precursor doesn't stand alone; you really do need to have read earlier books in the series to understand the pre-existing relationships and political forces, but as a part of the series, this is a very strong book.