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Web Shifter's Library, Book One
by Julie E. Czerneda
Daw, $26.00, 422pp
Published: October 2018

Between 1998 and 2003, Ms. Czerneda introduced us to Esen and her human best friend, Paul.  See the link at the bottom for reviews of those books.  Esen is one of just two left of her kind – that she knows of.  She is a true shifter, able to change to any living form; and terrifying to most sentient beings.  Only Paul and a select group of trusted friends and associates know Esen for her true nature and they help protect her secret. 

It felt like all the danger was finally behind them.  Esen was able to give back to Paul the things she felt he had lost while being loyal to her for so many years:  his birth planet, Botharis, his family’s estate, his own name and – best of all – his Library.  Too many of their more dangerous adventures involved the lack of understanding between sentient species leading to death and disaster. Paul conceived of the idea of an All-Species Library where facts can be collected and then distributed as needed.  Anyone can come to ask a question; the price is simply a new fact to be added to their collection.  And with her web-kin Skalet in charge of security, Esen has everything she needs to be happy.

And amid all the silly, insignificant questions they field every day, finally came the one for which the Library existed.  It came with a human named Evan Gooseberry.  Evan was a newly-minted diplomat and he had found himself with an insurmountable problem:  the possible extinction of a race of…Elves.  And while that was enough to get Paul’s and Esen’s attention; what he brought with him as the price for asking was shocking and disconcerting to both Esen and Skalet – a statue with a bit of web-flesh imbedded in it.

Their old friend, Lionel Kearn, also pays a visit to the Library with disturbing news for Paul.  While Paul was doing all he could to reconcile his family on Botharis, who still felt the sting of his betrayal so very many years ago when he abandoned them to protect Esen, the ones he really missed were his parents.  His mother died while he was in exile, believing Paul to be dead, and his father was off-planet.  Lionel comes with news that his old nemesis, Janet Chase, was asking questions about Paul and his father and now his father appears to be missing, his business in a smoking ruin.  There are also unanswered questions about his mother coming back to haunt him – did she steal the records from her last ship posting, or was she protecting them?  What about her last ship posting is causing so much concern and interest – a new star drive? A navigation system?  Anything that involves Janet Chase is to be taken very seriously…as Evan Gooseberry can testify to after spending time in her company, unknowing of her true nature.

While there is some enjoyable mystery concerning Paul’s long-dead mother (maybe…) that will be the ongoing thread in this new trilogy, I truly enjoyed the efforts to save a dying race.  And all the questions that arose from that:  if the race wants to die, are rescue efforts appreciated or even appropriate?  If by rescuing the dying race, another race is put into jeopardy, what is the correct decision?  And Ms. Czerneda employs her usual tactic of interspersing small tidbits of some other alien thoughts throughout the chapters; she did this in the earlier books by way of introducing the web-monster that Esen killed.  Those little tidbits were very tantalizing and while it was immediately obvious that the web-monster was bad; these tidbits are not quite so obvious.

There continues to be a bit of by-play with Kearn’s increasing attraction to Skalet and her response to it.  That’s a bit of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing how Czerneda resolves it, if ever.  And Esen spends time in all her usual forms which lends itself to a little comedic confusion from others who can’t quite discern which is the real Esen.  There’s a terrific Carasian character which I loved; having come to appreciate their complexities in another series that Czerneda wrote.  I’m sure we will discover yet another mystery associated with the Carasian.  The plethora and diversity of alien life in this story was delightful.

The plot is excellent and complex enough for 400-plus pages to keep the reader engaged.  Her characters are always interesting.  We mostly just get Esen’s point-of-view and what she discerns and observes.  It might feel like we are missing a lot by not having Paul’s POV but it would not be so much an Esen story if Czerneda went down that path.  We do have to have Evan’s POV as much of his story is outside of Esen’s contact with him which Czerneda did in the last stories with Kearn.  It’s not entirely Esen’s POV, we are treated to quite a bit outside of that to make the story more well-rounded.  But we never get Paul’s.  I find it an interesting omission.

And the payoff to this story was unexpected and just wonderful; both for the gentle reader and Esen.  I don’t know that we’ll see a complete resolution in just two books…it might take more.  And I’m really okay with that.   ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Julie Czerneda click here.

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