by C. J. Cherryh
Avon, 2002 , ISBN 0061052604
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is sf written very much like a fantasy. The technology might as well be magic, for the extent to which Marak Trin Tain and his companions understand it. What it really is, of course, is nanotechnology, and spaceships, and tossing asteroids and comets around as needed. Only a small portion of this world, the Lahkt, is really habitable, and that's due mainly to nanotechnology, and conditions are still at best very harsh.
Marak and most of his companions are mad, or what is called mad on the Lahkt. They see impossible things, and hear voices telling them to go east to a silver tower, and they heal very well. The ruler of their world, the Ila, orders all the mad rounded up and brought to her in the capital city, Oburan. Marak, the son of a village chieftain who staged a long but unsuccessful rebellion against the Ila, hopes that once in the city, he'll get a chance to kill his old enemy. He would have, too, if the Ila didn't have force fields and energy weapons to protect herself.
The Ila, in any case, has a different plan for Marak. She wants him to lead an expedition to the east, to find out what it is that's calling the mad, and report back to her. Marak agrees, with several conditions, one of them being that all of the ingathered mad go with him.
It's not a safe journey, and not everyone survives. Along the way, Marak acquires two wives amongst his fellow mad--which is an outrage to his village upbringing, but very much the Done Thing in the tribal culture that one of his wives comes from. And when they finally reach their destination, they find out that they have scarcely begun traveling. The people who have been calling the mad for thirty years want Marak to go back to Oburan and organize a much more difficult and dangerous expedition.
This is an interesting and mostly enjoyable book. I think that whether you enjoy Cherryh's fantasy is a better test of whether you're likely to enjoy this one than whether you enjoy her sf. I do have one serious complaint, and that's that Luz, the summoner of the "mad," is difficult and obscure, and much of the time it seems that she's being difficult and obscure because the plot requires it; Marak wouldn't make some of the decisions he makes if Luz were explaining things adequately and behaving in a manner that encouraged him to trust what she does say. This is a serious irritant from the point at which we first meet Luz.This is dangerously close to being an idiot plot, a plot in which critical events would not happen, if otherwise intelligent characters did not behave like idiots.