Back in 1998, 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.
After many adventures, both thrilling and horribly dangerous, Esen and Paul have found sanctuary on Paul’s home planet, Botharis. They’ve built a Library a repository of all the information they can gather about any and all life in the universe. A free service to any sentient being with a question; the cost being simply a new fact to add to the Library. Paul and Esen intend that the Library be used to mitigate misunderstandings between species that can often lead to unfortunate results; in the last book they used the Library to save a race of Elves. The Library has a rocky relationship with the authorities on Botharis who aren’t completely sure they like the idea of the whole universe landing on their doorstep.
So it isn’t surprising to find malignant beings using the Library’s reputation and easy accessibility to mask ulterior motives. But ulterior motives aren’t considered ulterior by the ones doing it; they are using what’s available to save themselves or their culture. And it’s not that Paul and Esen wouldn’t be sympathetic but they won’t allow harm to come to another so it becomes something of a political game to balance everyone’s needs. The author provides us another lovely mystery including murder, a lost herd of Elk, kidnapped embryos of a new race, the fate of the Library itself amid a contagion lock-down due to the unexplained deaths of an entire spaceship crew - and an expansion of Esen’s web-family.
The library is challenged by a question from a familiar but strangely different race called the Sacrissee who demand sanctuary (from who?) and a new planet (why?). But before the Library is able to give a recommendation, the Sacrissee are apparently murdered. Esen isn’t too sure about that and with leave from Paul hunts for traces of the murderers …and the missing Elk herd. Meanwhile, Esen’s sister Lesy isn’t satisfied living inside a pot in the greenhouse any longer. Esen had been cautious about sharing information with what was essentially an infant web-being, albeit a millennium older than both Esen and Skalet her only other remaining webkin. Unfortunately, Skalet was ambushed in the greenhouse and Lesy managed a bite out of Skalet which imparted much more information that Esen judged safe for Lesy to assimilate. In the meantime, Esen’s good friend, the ever-cheerful and naïve young diplomat from the Commonwealth, Evan Gooseberry, arrives to spend his vacation with his friends. But in the confusion over protecting the Sacrissee, Evan escapes to the relative calm of the greenhouse and makes the acquaintance of an extraordinary woman dancing naked in the snow. Making an incorrect assumption, he befriends what might be the most dangerous creature in the universe. But for Esen, the greater concern is how she’s going to explain to Paul why she resurrected her dead webkin who lived in a pot in the greenhouse and why she never managed to mention it.
Skalet, still retaining her favorite form that of a Kraal is still playing Kraal politics while acting as head of security of the Library. It becomes a conflict of loyalties when she discovers the Kraal’s part in what has become, literally, a potential inter-species war. But it’s her evolving trust in Lionel, who loves her and knows exactly what she is, that may prove a life-saver to Paul.
Paul has quite a lot to handle from worrying over Esen’s impulses, to convincing Botharian authorities that the Library is essential and how they really, really need to build a port city with facilities that would have come in handy now they have a Library full of different species to be housed and cared-for until the threat of contagion has been managed; trying to keep secret the murder of three representatives of a species; and dealing with buried emotions as his old-love, who thought he was dead for fifty years and understandably holds some resentment, appears as the one individual who can either save Botharis or enslave it and at the same time save the Library. All of which he handles with his usual aplomb …and Esen’s help.
This was a truly impressive plot almost all the elements revolved around the central purpose of the Library to facilitate communication so that misunderstandings don’t become fatal. The peripheral parts serve to expand and explain Esen’s existence and her effect on others - which makes her an absolutely adorable central character.
Ms. Czerneda provides one of the most comfortable and wondrous universes I’ve encountered. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of her stories. And I so look forward to many more. ~~ Catherine Book
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