by Karen Traviss

Cover image

Series: Wess'Har #4
Publisher: Eos
Copyright: October 2006
ISBN: 0-06-088231-X
Format: Mass market
Pages: 387

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Matriarch is the fourth book in the Wess'Har series, and as with the previous books it's difficult to discuss the plot in any detail without spoiling the previous books. I'll therefore be more vague than normal. It directly follows The World Before, and it's pointless to try to read this series out of order.

Unfortunately, after two initial books that advance and complicate the overall series plot at a breakneck pace, Matriarch takes the foot farther off the accelerator and exceeds The World Before in feeling like the middle book of a series. There are a few moderately interesting discoveries, but little that wasn't predictable after The World Before. The characters deal with the emotional fallout of the previous book and there's some character development (including several events that will have a gut-wrenching effect on the main characters), but the overall series plot and the reader's understanding of the setting are in a holding pattern. While there are some slow developments, a reader who skipped this book entirely would find it easy to catch up on the status of relations between the spacefaring powers. That's a disappointment.

Much of my problem with this book is that, as was sadly predictable from events in The World Before, one of Matriarch's major plot lines follows two characters in which I have no interest whatsoever. That development was annoying enough from a plot perspective, since I thought it created a lot of angst without taking the story in a direction I found interesting, but even worse was the degree to which it centralized two of the few characters in this series that I'd happily drop down a well and never read about again. They get the most active and developing portions of the plot, which makes it hard for me to care about the complications they're adding to the story and hard to read through pages of them whining at each other. The contrast with the rest of the cast, in whom I have a great deal of interest and who I wanted to be considerably more active, is particularly annoying.

Those are the things Matriarch does poorly. What it does well is to continue a difficult analysis of cause and effect, personal responsibility, the ethics and practicality of invervening in other civilizations, and the alternative views on all of these topics held by the aliens in Traviss's universe. Some parts of this discussion are getting a bit long-winded and would be aided immensely by significant plot advancement, but it's still interesting and occasionally gripping material. Traviss is also unafraid to be nasty to her characters and unleashes a couple more vicious tests of their principles and ideals, which were both emotionally effective in this book and which I expect to have significant fallout in books to come.

I like the moral ambiguity and alternative moral perspectives of Traviss's world, and I like (most) of the main characters. That's enough to still enjoy this book despite additional middle-book symptoms. I don't want to scare off series readers: my continued loyalty to the series and intention to read the next book is not in doubt, and I still highly recommend it. If this review seems mostly negative, it's because due to spoilers it's easier to talk about what isn't working than what is. But I was still hoping for a story that stayed more dynamic.

Hopefully, this is the last time I have to make this complaint. With two books left in the series and upcoming events that will require a lot of pages to fully resolve, it's about time for Traviss to kick the series back into high gear. If the story continues at this pace, I'm going to be very disappointed, but I have high hopes that it won't.

Followed by Ally.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-09-28

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