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A novel by Julie Czerneda
(2008, DAW)

Stratification, book 2

The exiles travel to a new home, long abandoned, while Aryl searches for a balance between the two other races and the strangers from outer space.


-- First reading (hardcover)
Read November 1st to 28th, 2019


Once again, I was mesmerized by the writing; this author has a real gift for description that is not heavy-handed like so many others. The clash of cultures is really highlighted in this book, as we learn that the Agreement is not such a straightforward thing. The way Aryl is opening her mind (literally and figuratively) to new concepts, such as the place of Power, the idea that the world extends beyond her people, and her maturation, happens so naturally that it's a real pleasure to experience.

Spoiler review:

The book starts as Aryl’s group is leaving the Grona clan, immediately after the previous book ended. Unfortunately, the first hundred or so pages are not very interesting, as they wander the landscape, heading towards another clan, but end up in an abandoned settlement. The only really fun part was the mental banter between Aryl and Enris, the former feeling superior because she can walk on thin ledges, being used to trees, and the latter staying on firm ground. There’s a lot of nice introspection peppered around here, but it still takes a long time to get to Sona.

The Agreement between the Tikitik, Oud and Om’ray seems very unfair to the Om’ray, as they must remain ignorant, while the Oud can do what they want, and the Tikitik seem to be a self-appointed police force. A few more secrets are let free in this book, one of which is that the Om’ray Adepts dream about the future to give them knowledge of how to proceed in certain instances. So when Aryl and her cousin Seru, as well as some of the other youngsters, start dreaming, they learn some of Sona’s secrets, which allows them to survive in the cold with no source of food.

A romance has started between Aryl and Enris, but because Aryl hasn’t reached the Om’ray equivalent of puberty, she cannot be a Chooser, so Enris is forced to move on. The courtships are very complicated, between Choosers, Chosen, Unchosen, and so on, but it makes complete sense when it’s revealed little by little by Aryl, instead of from the outside perspective as in the first book. It’s hilarious to see her attitude change as she becomes a Chooser, entering the stage where her subconscious will stop at nothing to be mated, and she sends her Call, so strong that it can reach all Om’ray tribes.

Aryl gets her first test as new Om’ray arrive, refugees from Grona, some of whom tried to coerce her into revealing her ability to push people through the Darkness, which she now calls the M’hir. This includes Bern, her heartmate, and his chosen, who is an Adept in training. All they want it to restore the traditional way of the Om’ray in Sona, with them in charge. But Aryl has already started instituting a policy of equality, where people can use whatever ability they want, or learn to read and write. She’s forgotten the Agreement, and doesn’t realize how deeply it is ingrained in the higher species. She’s young and uninformed, and it would have been good if she’d known the whole Agreement and how it worked before making these decisions.

When Aryl goes in search of water, she finds that the river was diverted, and is now a giant waterfall that delves deep into the ground. She finds an Oud searching for the entrance to the Sona cloisters, where their Adepts would have studied. And she finds Marcus, doing his own research. While Aryl yearns for Enris, she’s also drawn to Marcus, his liberty of abilities, his technology, even though she doesn’t consider him “real” because he has no mental imprint. They share in some danger, he lends her a device that can detect Oud, and they confront the Oud and Tikitik.

I can’t say I understand the discussions with the two alien species, but it appears that the Oud want to restore the Om’ray in Sona, and the Tikitik disagree. The Oud even kill the Tikitik emissaries. Aryl wants so much to have her own tribe that she takes the first opportunity to make a decision that they should stay, that Sona should be taken from the Tikitik and given to the Om’ray. While it seems so natural and right, without knowing the implications of the Agreement, she doesn’t know how disastrous it would turn out to be.

Enris, meanwhile, continues his travels to Vyna, where he believes he’ll find technology similar to the piece the Oud brought him back in Reap the Wild Wind. They definitely have the technology, but are the most closed and racist people ever. They refuse to talk with their voices, and they believe only Vyna are true Om’ray; all others are lower castes. They live on a volcanic island surrounded by dangerous creatures that can prey on the Om’ray ability to communicate and sense over distances. Except for his knowledge of the piece of unknown technology, they would have killed him outright. It seems that Om’ray physiology is very different from humans, and I didn’t quite understand it. How are the Choosers all pregnant, unless they force the males to mate with them before becoming bonded? Enris barely resists such a bonding, where he would have been drained of life afterwards. The major deviation of the Vyna is that they are completely inbred because of their beliefs. They even transfer the consciousness of the dying Adept elders into the unborn fetuses, taking the place of the children. So the babies are born old. Yipes, no wonder Enris is disgusted.

He finally tries to escape, and is chased to a giant machine, a high wall that the Vyna are building out of volcanic rocks, and nearly kills himself trying to answer Aryl’s Call when he falls off the wall. What makes him desperate is the calls of danger from his home in Tuana, as the Oud begin to destroy the tribe. He travels through the M’hir, the darkness, to get to them, to save his brother and a couple of others. But the rest of the village is completely destroyed. In the end, he’s able to transport them to Marcus’ hut, where he meets up with Aryl and the Adept who tried to seduce him back in Tuana.

The destruction of Tuana is puzzling, but obviously has something to do with the Agreement, as Sona has now replaced Tuana in the minds of the Oud, and they have taken over that space for themselves, or for the Tikitik. Enris is furious with Aryl, and Aryl herself is devastated. I can’t wait to learn more about it, though, to get a better understanding of the relationship between these three species. I wonder, though, if the author will just leave it as a mystery…

Before they destroyed Tuana, the Oud forcibly brought several Tuana Om’ray to Sona, presumably to help the community grow. These included the woman who tried to seduce Enris, and the men who attacked him as he left Tuana on his Passage. One of these men Chooses Seru immediately upon arrival, and they are bonded. But he’s a mean Om’ray, and takes over her spirit, beating her physically, too. Aryl, furious, takes control of both of them, diving into the M’hir to sever the bond and rescue her cousin. The man dies, but Seru is free of his influence, something that has never happened before.

Through the last book and most of this one, Aryl was cautious about her new ability, the teleportation. But as usual, the new discovery cannot be ignored once used. Her mother warned her about it in the last book, but could apparently experience what she called the Darkness. Aryl newly dubs it the M’hir, after the winds of her homeland. She teaches Enris how to access it, and he uses it to travel to Tuana to rescue his brother and a few others. Aryl herself uses it to save hers and Marcus’ life, then again to save her cousin from her Chosen, and yet again to escape back to Yena for solitude, where her mother reveals that she knew all this would happen, that the Adepts Dreamed it. I don’t know what this portends for the future!

Enris follows Aryl back to Yena, where they are bonded, the strongest Om’ray pairing in memory. Since the Tikitik said they wouldn’t allow this, I wonder what this means for them. The new power also goes against the Agreement, and it’s now out in the open. The Oud, Tikitik and Marcus have viewed it, not to mention those present when Aryl saved Seru. This makes for a very complex and extremely interesting story. I haven’t read the earlier series, which takes place in the future, and I wonder how this ties in. I look forward to the discovery.


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