|4.5 Stars out of 5|
What is so great about this book? Cherryh creates wonderful aliens! The Regul, although allies of humans, are rather revolting creatures--at maturity, they are huge, ungainly creatures who rely on automated sleds to move them around their environment. As younglings, they are neuter, not acquiring a gender until such time as they are the oldest surviving Regul in a group and as younglings they are VERY expendible. Not only their biology, but their psychology is foreign as well--they never forget anything. No need to study, they just see/experience things once and they've got it. The price they pay for this talent is that they have no imagination and are therefore unable to lie (although they seem to be pretty good at working their way around that supposed attribute).
The Mri are a mercenary race, hired by the Regul to fight their battles for them. At the book's beginning, they have been bringing destruction to human colonies. This obviously does not endear them to the humans from those colonies. However, the Mri are much more like humans in biology. Much easier to identify with. But they are a very insular people, very hard to know, as they scorn outsiders and base their lives on honour.
There are multiple issues addressed in the novel, but the ones which engaged me were (1) what do you do when your allies are revolting to you and your enemies are much more appealing? and (2) Is the universe a safer, better place without Mri or is a universe without Mri a less rich, less interesting place? Is the genocide of a race of murderers okay? I think we all know the answer to that one, but its exploration through the machinations of these 3 species through space is both thought provoking and exciting.
Another happy item for me: the Mri are governed by their She'pan, a woman who makes all the important decisions and directs the warrior class.
I found I could almost taste the soi beverage that the Regul consumed so regularly (not appetizing to humans), smell their dusty body odor and feel the unease with which humans dealt with Regul. Equally, the cold and dry of the Mri desert life was also vivid, as was the tension of dealing with a mysterious and dangerous other. I hope to read this volume again at some point, with fewer interruptions so that I can properly savour the delicious descriptions.