BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Sira and the Clan come under unexpected and massive assault, causing the survivors to consider a undergo exodus to preserve themselves and their future.
PROS: Welcome return to fan favorite characters; excellent exploration into the back story of the Clan; beautiful cover.
CONS: Novel takes some getting up to speed for readers who have been long-absent from this world.
BOTTOM LINE:The Clan returns!
A Thousand Words for Stranger, Julie Czerneda’s debut novel, introduced readers like me to The Clan– a secretive semi immortal shapeshifting race living in a sort of exile amongst a panoply of alien races in a space opera future where Man was just one of the many races exploring the stars. It also introduced Sira, the latest in a line of breeding to increase the M’hir, the strange power the Clan had to move through a hyperspace by will and force alone. That and the subsequent two novels, Ties of Power and To Trade the Stars, expanded that universe, documenting Sira’s rise and struggles alongside her mate, the human captain Jason Morgan.
The Stratification Trilogy went back into the deep history of the Trade Pact universe, showing the original world of the Clan, Omray, and the story of how and why they came to leave their home for Trade Pact space, and why it had to be forgotten, and, most crucially, just how the Clan came to have the abilities and powers that they do. The Stratification Trilogy is also, on the personal level, the story of Aryl Sarc, the prime mover of that exodus. These two trilogies, and the two plot threads of these two sets of novels have finally come together in This Gulf of Time and Stars, the first in a capstone trilogy about the Clan.
After an ominous prelude, the novel eases us back in the world, reintroducing us to Sira, her mate, Jason, and other characters from their universe in the context of a baby shower. We get a view of some of the characters and races from the Trade Pact universe, and how they get along with each other, and with the Clan, especially since the Clan, at this point, are no longer a secret. The idyllic high and happiness of seeing the Clan at the height of their acceptance is quickly shattered as forces long arrayed against the Clan strike violently. Sira, and the Clan, are forced to face the demons and secrets of their past, and seek the one place in the universe where those trying to destroy them–their long lost homeworld.
The novel is at its best when it focuses on Sira and Morgan. When the two of them are together, the novel just sings. Their relationship is deep, touching, constant and is what the other characters and the world revolves around. It was wonderful to re-introduce myself to the Speaker of the Clan and her human mate once again.
The structure of the novel, with its interludes, preludes, and shifts, doesn’t always work to the advantage of the writing in my opinion, especially in the early going of the novel, as readers like me are re-introducing and reacquainting themselves with the Trade Pact universe. While the author does lay down a few tracks for new and returning readers to remind them who and what characters and places are, for the most part, this novel really must and does stand after Sira’s series. Reacquainting oneself with Sira and her world takes some work, and the structure plays against that. By the time the reader reaches the latter half of the book, and the connections to the Stratification Trilogy begin, however, the author does a good job holding the mystery and wonder, even for new readers. Readers of the Stratification Trilogy, however, will pick up on some things that the characters themselves do not, an interesting mismatch between reader knowledge and character knowledge at work.
The Clan Universe, for me, really shows the strength and the virtues of Czerneda’s writing. While she has written fine fantasy and science fiction since, the Clan novels, in my opinion, are where her writing is the strongest. The biological history and future of the Clan, reminiscent to me of the long-running breeding and manipulations of families and bloodlines in the world of Dune, is a fascinating tapestry whose two halves are slowly and finally coming together. Her multi-species style space opera universe, in large contrast to the aforementioned Dune, is a hallmark of the form,a fully realized saga of aliens and races and cultures that stands alongside works like C.J. Cherryh’s Chanur-verse.
This Gulf of Time and Stars comes to a conclusion leaving the doors wide open to explore the remainder of this capstone story to the Clan. The novel doesn’t stand alone, and is entirely the wrong place to start to explore the author’s Trade Pact/Clan universe. Readers who have, however, will be very happy to see the virtues, the characters and the worldbuilding are all in place. Thanks to This Gulf of Time and Stars, I was reimmersed into the world of the Clan again after too long, and look forward eagerly for its continuation.