The World Before

by Karen Traviss

Cover image

Series: Wess'Har #3
Publisher: Eos
Copyright: November 2005
ISBN: 0-06-054172-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 388

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This is the third book in the Wess'har series. This is a very tightly integrated series that reads like an extended novel, with major revelations that build on each other from book to book. It's not the sort of series that you can read out of order. You should start with City of Pearl. But do; it's an excellent series.

As usual, it's very difficult to talk in any detail about this book or even name characters without possibly spoiling earlier books. I'm therefore going to be more vague than normal and try to describe the emotional feel rather than the details.

This is the first book in the series that didn't shock me with a major plot twist. The plot twist is certainly present, but it's a twist that I'd been expecting since the middle of Crossing the Line, and despite keeping me guessing up until it happens, it plays out fairly conventionally and predictably. I think it's the right direction for the series to go to keep it interesting and to keep me involved, but I must admit to a bit of minor disappointment that Traviss didn't try something much riskier.

This is also the first book in the series in which the characters do things so stupid that I want to strangle them. There are unfortunately a couple of those moments, including one of those slow-motion lack-of-communication train wrecks that are entirely realistic but so painful that I hate it when authors include them. Traviss was doing so well, too. She had a lot of emotional angst and relationship difficulties, but between people who were still communicating about hard things. I was very disappointed. It's not that it's untrue to the characters, but it's simply not a character direction that I care about or want to read about.

To be fair, it's not pure unthoughtful misunderstanding. Traviss did deftly handle complicating the lack of communication so that all parties aren't being completely honest and some of the miscommunication feels moderately intentional. It didn't quite salvage that part of the book (and sadly it's near the end, so it left me with a bad taste), but combined with lots of other really excellent relationship bits it does salvage the whole book. (Polyamory! And mostly not handled in ways that make me cringe, although it's treated as annoyingly inhuman and there is still some nonsense about human monogamy.)

These misses, plus a feeling of "middle of the series" development and lining up of chess pieces, mean that I didn't enjoy The World Before as much as the previous series entries. The ending in particular I thought was weak, with quite a bit of stubborn self-sacrificing refusals to communicate and a closing revelation that I found less dramatic than the previous two books. However, it's still a solid book in an excellent series, and if you liked the previous two books as much as I did, it won't stop you from staying with the series. It's more a bit of a breather to give the characters and the world time to absorb the truly shattering revelations of Crossing the Line. The best part for me was further revelations and depth to the Wess'har, who of the alien races in the series are the most interesting to me. There are also a few growing character connections that I suspect will be great fun in future books.

This continues to be one of the best SF series I've read. I'm looking forward to the next book, where hopefully the conclusion of this one will be shown to not be quite as stupid as it looked.

Followed by Matriarch.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-06-29

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