To Guard Against the Dark
by Julie E. Czerneda
Daw, $26.00, 424 pages
Published: October 2017
I’ve been reading all the books leading up to this latest one. If you want to read earlier reviews: First Trilogy: Click here for a review of A Thousand Words for Stranger, and here for Ties of Power and here for To Trade the Stars. Second Trilogy: Click here for Reap the Wild Wind. And here for Riders of the Storm. And here for Rift in the Sky. And the last trilogy is here for This Gulf of Time and Stars and here for The Gate to Futures Past.
To summarize this amazing epic: Once upon a time there was a mysterious race called the Hoveny. These lost people created the most amazing devices and technology and the remnants of that civilization are the most sought-after relics imaginable. Enter a strange humanoid race that appears, in part, to be cared-for pets of two rival races and barely-tolerated dangerous aliens. When these ignorant and naïve people are forced to flee their comfort zone, they enter the human-dominated Trade Pact universe. Hiding in plain sight as Humans, eventually they draw the attention of other sapients who began to realize there were mind-readers among them. In their effort to protect their people they incur the hate and distrust of just about all sapient species in the Trade Pact. They also become a commodity. They also breed themselves into a corner when the latest generation of females are so powerful that any attempt to mate ends with a dead male. The latest powerful female is Sira, destined to be the last of their kind until she meets a kindred spirit in Human Jason Morgan. Whether or not they’d be able to breed a more stable generation is never explored as that is not really where the story has to go. What becomes more significant is the suggestion that something is hunting these Hoveny descendants and dragging them into the m’hir forever. The m’hir is an unexplainable other existence. It would be too simplistic to label it another dimension. But the nature of the m’hir and the Clan’s connection to it is the ultimate climax to this story.
In this last book, Sira is long-dead and Jason is trying to continue his existence as best he can, with the help of old friends like the Carasian, Huido, and new ones. But no one can imagine the pain of loss for Jason or for Sira who isn’t exactly gone. That loss keeps Sira apart from the rest of her Clan, now joined in happiness forever within the m’hir. It is her choice to keep her self-identity and painful memories of her Jason but when her corporeal-dead family come to her to help save the Trade Pact universe, she has no choice but to agree; even though it means returning to humanity but not to Jason. Not all the Clan left the Trade Pact as many of them did not believe Sira when she told them what they really were and from where they came. Sira and Jason both thought leaving them behind was a choice left to them; however, the entities in the m’hir are not satisfied and they will tear apart the Trade Pact universe to recover every single Clan member
As with all plans, nothing goes exactly as planned. She does end up with Jason but inhabiting her dead sister’s body and masquerading as her. While her misery and joy are distracting and could impede her mission, she is, after all, the most powerful being in the universe and she does not intend to fail. But even with all that power, she is only one being in a vastly populated universe and not all races trust her to do what’s right for all.
While this was a very long and fun ride, and a really satisfying conclusion there are a few niggling issues. Ms. Czerneda suffers from the same issue that inflicts almost all writers when trying to portray an alien culture. We have trouble imaging anything significantly different from what we know. It is a rare writer that actually manages to impart alieness. And her worldbuilding was not as comprehensive as I would’ve liked; she focused almost entirely on characters. But that was also her strength; we really knew these characters and I liked how she gave a couple supporting characters center-stage for a while even though it didn’t really add anything to the plot. Overall, I would like to thank her for a very enjoyable read. ~~ Catherine Book