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 three 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. 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.
But the Library plays a backseat plotline to the threat of another monster in space; this time it’s not a web-being but something more terrifying…as if anything could be. This monster has been preying on spaceships for a very long time but no one knew what was happening. But now an entire planet is just…gone. Paul and Esen have continued their somewhat secretive investigation into those missing ships and have begun reviewing pictures that were sent from an unknown entity; either the monster itself or, more probable, someone or something who knows of it. Esen’s webkin, S’kalet has returned to her favorite human society, the Kraal, looking for additional evidence that the Kraal have also lost ships and any pictures that might have been sent to them. It isn’t the only reason; S’kalet has big plans for restructuring her position in Kraal society; a very martial society where the fortunes of a House rest on the strength of individuals.
Esen’s dear friend, Evan Gooseberry, has been recruited to join a team that’s going to investigate. There’s some question as to the motives of the disparate group and whether the group has been infiltrated by rogue Faction agents, whose agenda is very suspect. Evan is, as usual, a bit out of his depth but he continues to be a diplomat par excellence and contributes his usual insight while dealing with his own personal demons. Evan is still coming to grips with the knowledge that he was genetically altered as a child and he isn’t quite sure how human he is. He is also struggling with suspicions he’s developed about Esen and he’s keeping those ideas in his notebooks; an action that nearly costs him his life later.
Paul and Esen determine they just might have a chance to destroy the creature now known as the “Null” and the stuff of Esen’s nightmares as it was known to her progenitor, Ersh, and is now part of Esen’s memories. And with the help of many others, they plan to sneak off-world with a weapon which should do the trick. But Esen knows more about the Null than she’s shared with Paul so while Paul has devised a plan, Esen has made a different plan with a slightly altered mission. And if she has her way, Paul will never know the part his dead mother has played in the destruction or what Esen will have to do to stop the monster.
As usual, many plot threads have to come together for Paul and Esen to save the universe again. It’s both comforting and confusing for Esen to be dependent on fragile humans to ensure Paul’s safety and happiness. She also has to balance her responsibilities to her own webkin even though she’s the youngest. She’s the one with the knowledge Ersh gifted to her while denying it to the others; making Esen the one responsible for keeping her Web safe and together. But now that she has the full knowledge of what she is and of what she’s capable; I just wonder how she’ll be content to stay in a physical body with its limitations. I reckon as long as she has the love of Paul, she’ll stay where she is but it does cause this reader to speculate what Esen will eventually become when Paul is gone and millennium go by.
Ms. Czerneda continues to provide me hours of enjoyment and affection for her characters. Her plotting is a little loose while she brings in a multitude of characters and plotlines, not all of which are necessary to the main plot of this book. Ms. Czerneda likes to think ahead to the next story and lay foundations. And, as always, Esen takes center stage as we see more into her personalities. She’s brought Evan more into the spotlight this time and his story is not yet resolved. I’m so looking forward to learning where she’ll take them all. ~~ Catherine Book
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