A novel by Timothy Zahn
(1996, Bantam Spectra)
Book 3 of the Conqueror's Saga
The war between the humans and Zhirrzh threatens to ignite, while
some try to bring critical information to light, and others try to
spark a confrontation.
March 18th to April 5th, 2014, in hardcover
The story continues in a way that is very
satisfying, and comes to a predictable conclusion. The reason for the
war was revealed at the end of the last book, so it was only a wait to
see how long it would take for that information to percolate to the
right people. Fortunately, both sides had reasonable rulers, and it
didn't take long to call a truce. The author's style is consistent -he
writes good politics and battles, and no character is wasted.
Full spoiler review:
This book really was just a waiting game, to see how far either side
would go before the realization that the war was a terrible mistake took
hold, and who would be the one to end it. Given how reasonable the
people in charge and who were involved in the story were throughout the
first two books, there was really no doubt as to the second part. But
all the main characters were separated, and given this author's style in
making things as hard as possible for any character he creates, it's no
wonder that it took so long for everything to come together.
Stewart Cavanaugh's son Pheylan and bodyguard-former-Copperhead Aric
start the book at Aric's court-martial, from which they all escape
unscathed. Their political adversary Van Diver, who isn't much of one,
is disgruntled, and plots to follow them, hoping to catch them in more
illegal activities. I did like the computer's point of view -Max's
precision with numbers especially gave him a sense of machine
Cavanaugh is captured by Bronski (who still wants
him imprisoned for knowing that the super-weapon CIRCE doesn't exist),
after being ambushed by massive Bhurtalla en route to a rendezvous with a
friend. They go to Mra, where they trace the location for the meeting
between the Zhirrzh and Mrachani, and are captured (due to interference by
Pheylan's older brother is stolen away, and ends up
in Ychromae space, helping them rearm their fighters in anticipation of
a Mrachani attack. But he is then captured by Bronski's associates, but
can't escape Ychromae before the Zhirrzh attack it, manipulated by the
Mrachani. The battle decimates the Ychromae fleet, until two of their
ancient -and illegal- super-ships show up. Combined with the chance
arrival of a human fleet, which contains Aric as part of its unit, they
drive off the Zhirrzh. The little human things in this part of the story
seemed a little forced. It was obvious that Bokamba would end up as
Aric's crewmate once they were shown to be odd-numbered. It was also
obvious that Bokamba's attitude toward women in battle would cause Aric
to go in rescue of them when they got into trouble. This only allowed
him to see the Ychromae ships in action from a close vantage point. We
never get to see Aric's second court-martial for disobeying orders.
What's pretty cool about this book is that we now get a Zhirrzh point
of view, like in Heritage, as well
as a human one. The Zhirrzh were forced to withdraw, we learn, because the commander
of the fleet thought the Ychromae ships were CIRCE, obviously not
knowing anything about the weapon. The Overlord Prime himself orders the
withdrawal, also not knowing anything about the weapon.
interclan politics from the last book continues here, with Speaker
Cvv-Panav putting together his own alliance with the Mrachani, and
preparing to attack Earth, with his ships being towed through hyperspace
by the Mrachanis, so human detectors wouldn't see them coming.
Pheylan, meanwhile, revisits the planet where he was imprisoned, and
then sets back out to Dorcas, where his sister is trapped. Coming in
close to avoid the blockade, he crashes, and is captured by the Zhirrzh.
But these Zhirrzh have come to realize that humans are not the monsters they
were led to believe. Thrr-Gilag has arrived with the illegal fss cutting,
and rescues Prr-Zvesti with it, also bringing Melinda to the Zhirrzh camp
to heal Pheylan from the crash injuries. When the Dharr investigators
arrive searching for the illegal fsss cutting, they bring things to a
head. But Prr-Zvesti himself manages to contact the Overclan Prime,
revealing his knowledge of the radio waves and their use among humans.
Thrr-Gilag's father, trying to follow the people who set his
wife up with her scandal in the last book, ends up on the ship to Mra,
where he finds Cavanaugh, and breaks his silence. Between Prr-Zvesti and
Thrr-Rokik, who are able to communicate directly with the Overclan and
Cavanaugh and Melinda, they manage to negotiate a truce. This was
probably the best part of the book, as both Elders find their uses, and
have to get around various roadblocks to communicate with each other and
the humans and overlord. Cavanaugh has a
nice and tricky way to stop the Mrachani from towing the Zhirrzh, also
-leaking that the last piece of CIRCE was shipped off Dorcas past the
blockade. The Mrachani knew that CIRCE didn't exist, but freaked out
when they heard the information, having doubts, and left the Zhirrzh ships stranded.
Inside the Mra mountain, the Mra tried to frame humans by attacking
the Zhirrzh, draping the ship with metal so the elders couldn't return
home, and blaming it on CIRCE. But Thrr-Rokik was not within the ship,
so he could travel around and report on their well-being, thwarting the
plan. Aric's copperhead attack on the mountain freed the Zhirrzh, allowing
the ship to escape.
The ending was a little too easy, but it was
thrilling nonetheless, especially as we see the Mrachani plans thwarted.
The book was a lot of fun, bringing conclusion to most of the
characters, and a partnership between the Zhirrzh and humans. A very good
read, with insight into a wonderful alien society, even if they did
behave rather human at times.
Read September 3rd to 13th, 1996,
Amazing conclusion to the trilogy. The political wrangling was
so intense, it had me wondering if there was another book to follow,
because it didn't seem they could get out of the mess by the end.
But they did (in an unexpected way). I was exhausted!