Invader is book two of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner saga. It picks up the story a week after Bren Cameron’s arrival at the Fortress of Malguri. He has returned to the human settlement on Mosphiera Island and has undergone surgery to repair the injuries sustained during the events of the previous book. Suddenly the human government receives a call requesting he come back to the mainland immediately, over a matter of life and death. This where the book opens, with Cameron, arm in a sling, flying back to Shejidan, the capital of the Western Association.
The matter of life and death turns out to be the actions of Deana Hanks, his back up as Paidhi. When Cameron had gone missing due to his journey to Malguri, she had been dispatched to the mainland to cover his post. Although Hanks has gone through the same training as Cameron, she is nowhere near as good as he at the ability to carry out the duties required by the post. Her position as Paidhi successor is due mostly to the influence of her father Gaylord Hanks, a powerful political figue on the island. If the arrival of the Phoenix was not enough of an upset to Tabini’s regime, her ineptitude and/or machinations have made things worse. It is her life or death that is bringing Cameron back so quickly as Tabini does not want her on the mainland at all. Cameron desperately tries to convince her to return home, something she is unwilling to do.
Throw into this the fact that both human and atevi governments want to be the ones to make contact with the orbiting starship. When this contact is finally established it is revealed that the starship intends to send down two representatives in some of the aged capsules still left on the station after the crew had made their way down to the planet, but will they work properly after a century and a half in an abandoned space station. The two governments vie to have the two spacers land in their territory, with the humans willing to say or do anything to convince the ship’s leaders they should land on the island not the mainland.
Hanks has made things even more difficult by informing the atevi of the existence of faster-than-light travel. This concept does not fit into the numerical constructs that are one of the items, along with the concept of manchi, that dominate atevi hardwiring. Cameron must find a way to explain this in terms that will fit those numerical constructs. In doing this he has to turn to a discredited branch of atevi scientist, astronomers. At the same time Cameron must compress what took him a lifetime to learn about the atevi and teach it to the human, Jason Graham, in a matter of days before he makes his journey down to the planet. Then, suddenly, Hanks is kidnapped, or is she? All of this leads to the biggest crisis in human-atevi relations since the War of the Landing.
At the same time he has to deal with the tensions caused by Hanks actions and her possible kidnapping, Cameron has to make decisions that end up moving him from a neutral to being an integral part of Tabini’s regime. Burning bridges with his fellow humans as he goes, his connections with human slip away and threaten to cause harm to his familt still there on the mainland. He also has to face a budding relationship with his female bodyguard, Jago. Without emotions, Jago can never fill many of the needs a human lover would and Cameron has to face the fact no matter what happens between them she is not wired in a way that she can ever feel love for him, and because of the same thing Jago cannot understand any feelings Cameron might develop for her. In fact the only word in the atevi language that comes close to love is to like a salad. This becomes a running joke between Cameron, Jago and Banichi.
Once again, these events, are told through the eyes of Cameron. Many times the situations are rehashed in his mind over and over. Some folks think this is repetitive, but if you look closely at what is happening, you see the evolution of Cameron’s thoughts on particular subject or situation. Since the only perspective we have on events, and the only thing we know is what Cameron knows, this is an effective way of limiting, but changing what we as the reader knows of a situation. This is deeply related to the lack of understanding of the atevi as a whole due to their completely alien hardwiring. Many times Cameron learns new things about the atevi, especially with respect to the concept of manchi, something after all these years that humans truly still don’t grasp.
The formality of court etiquette and the concepts of numerical felicity add a flavor to the book that I find fascinating. Cherryh’s ability to come up with an intriguingly unique alien race, that has some similarities to 16th Century Japanese culture nonetheless, is put on display once again. The society is interesting to explore along with Cameron as what he knows, or thinks he knows, is constantly challenged and changed. This is not an action story, though there are segments that are actions filled, it is political thriller filled with intrigue and plots and plans that just happens to bet set in a science fiction setting.
This book was the first book of the series which I had read, it was not until many years later that I would go back and pick up the first book and read it. It was the book that made me a fan of the series and catch my attention enough that I would go on and collect all of the books in the series. If you like your science fiction mixed with political intrigue and a character who constantly has to, and does, think about his actions and their consequences, the this book is for you.