Hidden in Sight

by Julie E. Czerneda

Cover image

Series: Web Shifters #3
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: April 2003
ISBN: 0-7564-0139-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 493

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This is the third (and concluding) book in the Web Shifters trilogy. While there's a bit of awkward reintroduction of the characters, the story builds heavily on important events from earlier books in the series and isn't a good one to read out of order.

As before, the early parts of the book are the roughest, particularly for those who have read the previous books of the series and don't need the character reintroductions. Thankfully, this time there is less attempted recap, handled somewhat more adroitly, but the sections told from Esen's perspective are a touch annoying until the story kicks off in earnest.

As with the rest of the series, the book is told in alternating chapters, one from Esen's perspective and one from the perspective of some other character. In Hidden in Sight, for the first time, the chapters from a different perspective have a great deal of substance and are the highlights of the book. One gets a much stronger picture of the array of people who care about Esen now and their differing ways of attacking problems. The first two books are primarily about Esen and Paul; the third book is about friends, family, and a broader web of trust.

Commenting too deeply on the plot is difficult without badly spoiling Changing Vision, but I will say that the last book looked like it had closed off several avenues that Czerneda reopens here. The explanation is believable and it doesn't break the emotional tone of the previous book, but it still feels a bit like the normal trilogy retrenching. On the positive side, the exploration this enables, while initially frustrating due to Esen's repeated embarassment, adds a lot to her overall characterization. This is the first time that Esen has felt truly young, and also the first time she's come to terms with what that means and what she intends to do about it.

The plot is a mixed bag. There's a lot of watching Esen's life unravel, which is painful to read, and a lot of embarassment, but the end of the book finally brings together a rewarding, multi-faceted plot with a great final confrontation. The Tumblers play a significant role and turn out to be marvelous creatures, and while the Ganthor appear only in passing and never directly interact with Esen, they're as wonderful as always. The final emotional climax is a bit simplistic, but it still worked for me. Complex analysis of life's emotions is missing, but I'll settle for engrossing fun with a feel-good happy ending. Still, I came away wishing for a bit more emotional exploration and depth beyond the friendship motif, since the potential is clearly there but unspoken.

Another plot element I wish there were more of is the exploration of alien forms and ways of thinking that was so prominent in Beholder's Eye. We get only one significant new form for Esen, and while that one is explored in depth, I never got the wonderful feeling of sampling and blending in that the first book showed. Esen has access to too many resources and too many ways of cheating her way into safety instead of the painstaking hiding that she started the series with, and I think something was lost in the change. The series drifts more towards generic space adventure because of it.

Beholder's Eye was the best book of the series, but the rest was still worth reading. Hidden in Sight fixes some of the things that I disliked about the end of Changing Vision, gives Esen's supporting cast a chance to shine, and provides a fitting emotional conclusion to the series. Grab this trilogy when you're looking for play with culture conflicts in an alien-rich starfaring SF future; it's solid mid-list SF.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-03-15

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21