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Mother of Demons is one of my favorite books. The novel is a “braided timeline” style novel that tells the stories of a disparate group of people–human and alien–who become allies in a conflict with an enemy tribe. One timeline follows Nukurren, a mercenary currently serving as the body guard to a slave merchant. (This being the only job she can get since she is a “*pervert.”) One timeline follows the leader and followers of a religion that is currently being persecuted by the main religious institution of a city-state. Another timeline follows a young infanta of a barbarian tribe about to go into battle for the first time and who is desperate to save her tribe from an invading tribe of cannibals. Yet another timeline follows a struggling human colony that has been adopted by a dwindling and nearly extinct species related to the dominant intelligent species.
Braided timeline novels can be a little tricky to read since the timeline within each point of view tends not to be entirely concurrent. Though there are many characters in this story and a lot of interaction between these characters, the pivotal characters are Nukerren and Indira, one of the human colonists; Nukerren because she has the skills that the young human colonists need in order to fight, and Indira for the knowledge of history that she possesses. (In fact, much of the resolution of the novel depends on Indira and Nukerren making the correct choices.)
Next, we’re introduced to the members of the religious group who are aware of the “demons” and have previous points of contact with them through a community hidden in the same mountains where the human colony is located. One of the members of the group is an undercover agent assisting the leader of the group, and she is bringing her leader some important information about the “demons.” The leader, a female named Ushulubang has decided that the language spoken by the demons would be perfect to use as a sort of universal language.
The story of the human colony is that when the ship crash-landed only a small number of the adults plus many of the children were able to survive. They nearly didn’t survive because the humans were unable to eat the plants or any of the wildlife. They are eventually saved by the owoc who are able to provide the humans with a way to eat plants. (The owoc regurgitate semi-digested plants to feed to their offspring. An owoc came across one of the children and fed him.) It takes the humans awhile to realize that the owoc are sentient beings (the kids figure it out first) and by the time they do, their kids have been more or less half-raised by them.
The initial point of contact between humans and gukuy is when a gukuy raiding party attempts to hunt and capture the owoc. This starts the children on a defensive course of action where they begin raiding gukuy slavers. The kids also acquire a peaceful contact with the gukuy through a colony of the persecuted religious group (which is how Ushulubang becomes aware of them). The members of the colony have a positive relationship with the owoc living near their community, which is largely why the kids decide to make a peaceful contact with them.
Indira meanwhile, is scared out of her mind. She is not afraid of the owoc or the gukuy, she is afraid of what might happen in the future, which makes it very difficult for her to help the kids become better fighters or to give them the intellectual tools they need in order to create a future for themselves and their allies. She is a historian, and she is overwhelmed by the knowledge of how something can start out seeming good but gradually evolve into something terrible. Because the kids know that she’s hiding something, this creates a rift between herself and the kids. Indira is gradually brought around and is pushed to act by Ushulubang, who helps her find a sense of resolve and determination. In turn, Indira asks for Nukerren’s help because Nukerren has the knowledge necessary to train the kids in how to be soldiers. Nukerren agrees because she has acquired friends and a sense of confidence among the humans.
I really loved this book a lot, both as an adventure and as a first contact novel. The characters are interesting and engaging, and there is a thread of humor running throughout the narrative. (The romances aren’t half bad either. Eric Flint is a writer who loves him some romance.)
*Gukuy have four genders: female (neuter), mothers (reproducing females), true males (males capable of reproduction) and eumales (neuter). Nukerren is female (neuter) and she has a boyfriend (who is a true male). Her relationship is considered deeply perverse to gukuy.