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A novel by Julie Czerneda
(1997, DAW Books)

Trade Pact Universe, book 1

A woman whose mind has been wiped of all memories is hunted by slavers, and begins to form a bond with the man who saves her, while her family searches for her before her bond is cemented.


-- First reading (ebook)
October 31st to November 14th, 2022


While the abilities and bonds of the Clan were very different from what I’ve seen before, the story itself didn’t entrance me. I found the idea of the amnesiac who gets lost was not done as well as similar journeys I’ve read, especially when she starts to fall for the stranger who gets her off the planet. Having read the very vivid and original Stratification series, I understood right from the start what a Chooser was, and even what the stratification represented. It’s amazing how many little details were given in an original middle trilogy hinting at a rich history. Unfortunately, the bond between Morgan and Sira wasn’t strong enough to be engaging, and their travels around the galaxy didn’t hold my interest. The author can describe very alien settings, with my favorite being the shopping orbital platform, and well-developed ancillary characters, especially Huido, as well as the culture of the Clan. I hope I wasn’t spoiled by the earlier series. The politics that reared up more than halfway through was a little more interesting, and should give more depth to this universe. The revelation wasn’t too surprising, with a predictable escape attempt, which kept the book at a mid-level of interest. 

Spoiler review:

While the book was written many years before Reap the Wild Wind, it’s clear that the author knew many details about the earlier race that the Clan came from. The idea that hundreds of people from an unknown homeworld appeared in the Trade Pact suddenly one day, and stayed separate from it because of their connection to the M’hir and their unique physiology, is apparent in this first book. The idea of a Chooser, who used to have actual choice in Reap the Wild Wind, has become one of decree by the Council, such that increasing power is concentrated in a decreasing number of people. And so Sira di Sarc’s plan came into effect. Of course it doesn’t go as expected.

The book starts with Sira and Barac getting attacked while traveling, and are separated. Sira doesn’t know who she is, but Barac does, and when he can’t find her, because her mind is shielded, he goes to Morgan, a pilot he knows, and asks the man to look for her. Morgan has his own ideas, and doesn’t necessarily think that Barac has Sira’s best intentions at heart. So when he picks her up and hides her from the slavers, he doesn’t turn her over to the Clan, as Barac intended.

Sira’s memories flash into her mind a little at a time, but it doesn’t make for an effective mystery because the author is more interested in developing their non-love story. Although Sira offers herself to Morgan, Choosing him without even knowing what she’s doing, he is able to refuse, and she begins to doubt her inner voice, the one left by her own self, which had the intention of releasing her power into a human.

She learns how to operate a starship while Morgan doesn’t seem to think about the Clan at all for a good while, except to try and keep her safe. The bond is developing at a very slow pace, and while the story never gets boring, it barely held my interest for most of this. When Morgan is taken captive for double-crossing a customer, she goes in and saves him, not knowing what she’s doing. Honestly, this part of the book was awkward and confusing. I think it served to show that Spacers stick together, and gave Sira control of the ship for a while.

But when they get to the giant shopping orbital (intended as a mining complex in too much exposition), Sira decides to leave Morgan. When a Clan member recognises her and disappears (traveling through the M’hir), Morgan persuades her to go into hiding with him. They take refuge with the giant Huido, a fun alien who was distinctly alien. This is something this author does very well –create aliens who are not stock Star Trek or Star Wars. They have alien physiologies and mentalities, though they are close enough to us to form a trade federation.

While Morgan is able to break through one of the blocks in Sira’s mind, her family is searching for her, appearing through the M’hir in ghost form. A detective has also caught up with them, but a little too late, as Sira has been spooked and leaves. She makes it partway to their ship until she realizes she’s being followed, and is captured once again by the slaver. We don’t find out until later that the slaver is working in concert with Sira’s father and the ruthless renegade Yihtor.

The slaver ship is impounded, but rips part of the station apart to get away, and is sabotaged such that when he is killed, it is locked on a heading to Yihtor. Their departure in escape pods lands them on a densely covered planet, with huge plants that provide shade and nutrients. This is where Sira learns of her power. Transported through the M’hir, she leaves Morgan and joins her sister Rael, this time in real body. They talk, but Sira doesn’t believe what Rael says about her old self.

When she returns, Morgan is gone, having been captured by Yihtor’s people. Huido helps her rescue him, but she is captured instead, having pushed Huido and Morgan through the M’hir back to his starship. Yihtor knows who Sira is, as well as her powerful abilities. He uses a drug to prevent her from going through the M’hir, and plans to force her to carry his offspring. She’s begun to change into a woman, now that she’s given her Choice to Morgan, at least partially. During the union celebration, she brings him to the M’hir, the way any joining would, but she traps him there.

All of this was fairly standard plotting, and Sira’s amnesia didn’t work as well for me compared to, for example, Nika of Exin Ex Machina. Her recovery, or lack thereof, with a new personality taking over and dominating the old one isn’t written as well as others in a similar vein. Up to this point, while I recognized the symptoms of the old Om’rey joining, and especially Aryl’s incredible power back in Rift in the Sky, the story wasn’t more than mechanical for me. There lacked any emotion to cement the bond between Sira and Morgan. Even though they were growing closer, they both remained so detached, such that they had very little chemistry together.

The chapters were written in an interesting way, with Sira taking up the main point of view from a first person, and Interludes told from the third person, giving the readers more information about Barac’s search for his missing charge, Bowman’s investigation, Morgan’s interactions, and a couple of other small details external to Sira’s experience. I was more invested in the third person activities, which was disappointing, because I think Sira’s point of view should have carried more emotion.

In the end, she’s brought back home by her sister Rael and cousin Barac, where they discover it was Sira’s idea to choose Morgan, a human telepath, to release her power, even though it could kill him. The new Sira is of course horrified, but the Council is very interested in what happened, because Sira was too strong for any male of the Clan, so there was no way for her to breed, and they wanted the power more than anything. They end up just like Yihtor, willing to use her changed body without restoring her memories if necessary.

But Morgan returns after she escapes the Council (thanks to her father), and they are forced to come together for the joining. Morgan, being a powerful human telepath and having shared the M’hir with Sira before, not only survives, but Sira gives him the power to experience the M’hir. I’m not clear if she retained any of her power, but the Council is horrified at what she’s created, and I assume she’s retained part of it.

Where this goes from here, I can’t say. There is still a lot of mystery left, which I’m interested in learning in the next several books.


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