Daw, 370 pgs
Conspirator is the tenth book of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. In this installment taking place shortly after the events of Deliverer Bren is given a notice of eviction from Lord Tatiseigi’s apartments (where he’d been staying as a guest because his own apartment has been taken over by a noble family claiming that they should have the apartment since they helped Tabini-aiji dispose of the usurper.) Not wanting to cause a hassle and break up the very tentative peace, Bren obtains permission to go to his country estate and attend to all the really important things he hadn’t been able to manage due to being in space for two plus years. A working vacation (with sailing, fishing trips and a visit from his brother in the planning) seems to be just what the doctor ordered, so Bren and his household pack everything up and head to the coast.
Of course, Bren isn’t the only one who’d like a vacation. Cajeiri, Tabini’s son and heir is upset at being removed from the company of his grandmother (and Bren) in order to become better acquainted with his mother and father (and begin the long training process of becoming the ruler of the Association). Being overwhelmed by everything he’s learning, and underwhelmed by his tutors, Cajeiri takes it into his head to sneak out of the Bujavid and join Bren at his country estate. Since there has just recently been a civil war, and given that even at the best of times atevi politics can be extremely volatile, this is definitely not a good thing.
Once on the estate Bren has to navigate the difficult waters of his relationship with recurring annoyance and ex-girlfriend Barb, his shaky relationship with his brother Toby, and what turns out to be a very dangerous situation with the young lord of Kajiminda who has made some very bad deals with the southern factions that tried to depose Tabini. With the arrival of Cajeiri to the estate (followed by Ilisidi who has been sidetracked from her own working vacation plans in Malguri to hunt down her wayward great-grandson) the situation becomes very, very interesting for all concerned, in the “may you live in interesting times” sense.
Conspirator is an entertaining book, though the domestic entanglements of Bren’s family and Cajeiri’s relationship with his great-grandmother and his parents might not be to the taste of someone preferring the political intrigues and the “big picture” of atevi/human social interaction of the earlier books. Cherryh’s focus has narrowed somewhat in the series, and shifted. The Foreigner series is slowly becoming the story of Cajeiri, and Bren’s interaction with him as mentor and advisor. There are some fun bits where Cajeiri is trying to wheedle permission to go on vacation with Bren (or failing that, with his great-grandmother) and then planning his escape attempt when all attempts fail. Other favorite Cajeiri moments are when he realizes (on several occasions) that he isn’t quite as clever as he thought he was, and Bren and Ilisidi laying down the law.
It’s also the (continuing) story of Bren’s attempts to make peace and connect with his brother, and his (continuing) disconnection with human society. Bren seems driven to try to “fix” things, and despite his brother saying “really, we’re good,” continues to attempt mending fences, with various degrees of success. (This makes a certain amount of emotional sense to me. Given the family dysfunction(s) and arguments, Bren is going to try to explain, rehash, and apologize for every single issue, and Toby is going to argue every single point whether or not it is an accurate assessment.) With that said, I would still like to see some actual “closure” to this conflict.
The only part that absolutely does not work for me is the continuing arc with Barb, a character I didn’t have much use for to begin with. She was fine as a ‘relationship angst creator’ in the first books, but has slowly become the most annoying recurring character in the series. (Deanna Hanks and Bren’s mother are close seconds.) While obstructions are necessary to the plot, this particular one is so totally annoying that it is difficult for me to read any scene she is in. Given her actions within the most recent novels where she appears, it is really difficult to see what Bren saw in her in the first place.
Barb’s story arc has definitely jumped the shark in my opinion, and I really wish that she had been written out of the series a long time ago. I can do entirely without the additional drama of Barb’s attachment to first Bren’s mother and then to Toby. (The reasons for which involve Barb’s emotional hang ups concerning Bren.) There is quite enough drama with Bren’s family to begin with, since the really big family issues between Bren and Toby are centered on their mother, who was extremely emotionally manipulative, and set Bren and Toby against each other. It turns the family drama of Bren and Toby’s relationship into a soap opera to continue having Barb as the major obstacle. Barb only seems to exist to make a bad situation worse, and this is more than a little annoying.