A Thousand Words for Stranger

by Julie E. Czerneda

Cover image

Series: Trade Pact #1
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: October 1997
ISBN: 0-88677-769-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 366

Buy at Powell's Books

Okay, I'll admit it. I bought this book for the cover. Well, I picked it up because of Susan Stepney's review, then put it down again, then came back and bought it because of the cover. Waifish woman crouching in a loose robe, wind blowing her hair across her face, in a beautifully detailed background with her wrists bound.... Mm.

Remarkably, against the norm with SF, completely against the norm for first novels, and entirely unexpectedly, the book very much fits the cover. In fact, the cover is a detailed and almost-faithful representation of a scene in the book. That's practically unheard of. I wish publishers would let that happen more often.

Waif is an excellent description of the heroine of this book, who starts off amnesiac, lost, and alone, with a strange compulsion to seek out a particular starship pilot and get off the planet she's on. While there are interludes told in the third person to fill in background details, most of the book is told in the first person from her perspective, as she slowly rediscovers her psychic abilities, learns that she is not actually human, and figures out what happened to her and why. Oh, and falls in love.

This is SF with romance tinges, more on the fluffy side, but there's still far more than the average number of plot twists here. The tangle of background story and character motivations end up being quite a bit more complex than is apparent at the beginning, and I really like how the amnesia is handled, including the resolution. I'm rather fond of the world, too, although Cheryl Morgan nailed it in Emerald City #96 in a review of one of the later books in this series: this universe is elves in space. The Clan are the elves, and the other aliens fit into the roles of the boggles, goblins, and pixies. (I did like the avian alien who pants when he's nervous, though.)

There were a few things that bugged me. For one, and this is probably in part because this is a first novel, the melodrama occasionally gets laid on rather thick. I kept half-expecting Barac to sneer in disgust and cry out "Puny Humans, your technology is no match for my MENTAL POWERS!" I had a bit of a hard time buying the culture of the Clan, too, and even worse the gender roles here can be painful. The attempted inversion of some gender power roles didn't really work and instead came off as a play on the woman as seducer stereotype, and why, oh why, does there have to be such an emphasis on curvy bodies and long, flowing hair? And it may just be me, but I think someone secretly gave Rael a personality transplant halfway through the book.

Still, this was an enjoyable read. I loved the attitude of the heroine, I greatly enjoyed how she fit into the waif mold while still proving quite competent in a pinch, I liked the M'hir concept of telepathy and mental powers (points off for the "we put in an apostrophe so that you know it's a non-human word" method of naming, though), and the plot kept twisting in directions I wasn't expecting. Recommended for lighter reading, and I'll read the rest of the series.

It's really a great cover.

Followed by Ties of Power.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-09-21

Last modified and spun 2017-06-01