City of Pearl


Karen Traviss


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

April 6, 2005

This is a pretty good novel, especially for a first novel. It is the story of a woman (Shan Frankland) who is made commander of an expedition to Cavanaugh's Star, a solar system 25 light years from Earth. Long ago, a colony of humans disappeared there, but surprisingly, after long silence, they have sent a message back to earth, saying that they have encountered alien civilizations. Earth decides to send a team of marines and scientists to investigate this amazing announcement.

It turns out that Cavanaugh's Stars harbors not one alien race, but three. One is an aquatic civilization of squids, one is a prolific breeding land dwellers, and the third is a technologically superior but aloof group that wishes to preserve the status quo (and will go to brutal lengths to do so.) The arrival of this new team of humans upsets a fragile balance that has been maintained for a few generations. The surviving human colony ekes out a meager existence in a confined plot of land. Shan's team of newly arrivals is eager to investigate, looking for new technology or biology that can be translated into wealth back on Earth.

For additional suspense, Shan has been given a Suppressed Briefing, a bunch of information has been downloaded into her head, and will only be recalled when triggered by certain sights or events. Unfortunately, this plot device doesn't work too well, it seems contrived, and the information that finally is conveyed ends up making trivial difference in the story - by the time the content of the Suppressed Briefing becomes known, it seems irrelevant.

The best part of the story is the character Shan, who is an uncompromising leader on an alien planet. She must deal with Aras, who represents the technologically superior race of aliens that wants no change in the current state of affairs. The arriving party of humans is strictly warned not to take samples, not to interfere with the existing colony, but where this of course angers the scientists - they came 25 light years to get no samples? Tension rises. Aras and Shan have developing relationship (not a romantic one though, thank goodness, I always find it hard to believe someone would fall for an alien - it's as improbably as getting romantically involved with your cat, which is why novels like Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason are so flawed.)

City of Pearl moves at leisurely pace, and despite being 400 pages long, it finishes without too much territory being covered. I was rather annoyed - it seemed like a lot of lose threads were dangling. I have since read on Amazon that City of Pearl is in fact the first of a trilogy, and that the second story, Crossing the Line, is now published. I didn't know this was a trilogy when I started, or I would not have begun. I hate starting a sequence of stories, and then being unable to finish the tale because the next volume is unpublished. (Imagine being a fan of George RR Martin's Fire and Ice Series - his Feast of Crows book, volume 4, is about 2 years late!) I will probably read Crossing the Line at some point, but only after the third book is published.