Friday 7 January 2011

Beholder's Eye by Julie E. Czerneda

I haven't read anything by this author before but kept hearing favourable comments about her work, so I decided to try Beholder's Eye, the first of her Web Shifters trilogy, published in 1998.

The premise is unusual in that the heroine, Esen, is not only not human, she is an immortal being of pure energy who has the power to take the form of any race she knows. She and her small group of related Web Shifters spend most of their time in material form, spending years living within one culture after another and using their unique abilities to absorb and remember everything about them so that they will not be forgotten if they disappear. Their primary concern is not to be discovered, so they hide their true nature from everyone.

In this far-future universe, humanity has spread over a large number of worlds but is just one among many races in a mostly peaceable but occasionally turbulent galactic civilisation, divided into several rival blocs. Esen inadvertently becomes involved with a group of humans and is captured along with one of them, Ragem. In order to save his life she is forced to reveal something of her nature and he then becomes her intermittent companion in the adventures that follow.

I enjoyed the beginning of the tale but after a while began to find it somewhat uninvolving. This is partly because it's a bit difficult to empathise with an immortal alien energy being, partly because there is an inevitable lack of tension, despite a series of dramatic escapades, since the reader knows that Esen could escape from any threat if she chose. However, this changes in the last third of the book as a deadly danger, a more primitive Web Shifter predator, begins to hunt down and attack Esen's group. The story then becomes a tense battle for survival for the Web Shifters.

The story is told in the first person by Esen, who makes a likeable heroine although her attitudes are not at all alien; she thinks and behaves exactly as a human woman might if given her unusual ability. On the other hand she is influenced, sometimes amusingly, by the attitudes of the races she copies, because she becomes them in style of thought as well as appearance. Her developing and sometimes rocky relationship with Ragem, as he gradually discovers more about her circumstances, is another plus point. In the end I found it a good if not great read and worth the time spent on it, despite my reservations.

1 comment:

Bill Garthright said...

Well, Tony, I'm glad it wasn't a complete waste for you. :)

I thought you'd be more concerned about the length of the book, although I guess that one is shorter than her later novels. I really like her writing (and I loved Esen), but I can't help but think she could tighten them up a bit.

I might mention that I was just blown away by Czerneda's Species Imperative trilogy. It's a more serious story, though just as entertaining. Um, it's rather long, though.

Given your reservations about Beholder's Eye, I don't recommend the other two books in that series. They're fun enough - I enjoyed them - but there's nothing really new in either of them.