Rift in the Sky

by Julie E. Czerneda

Cover image

Series: Stratification #3
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: July 2009
ISBN: 1-101-13317-1
Format: Kindle
Pages: 419

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This is the third and final book of the Stratification trilogy and the bridge between it and the Trade Pact trilogy, of which it is a prequel. It's readable without reading the Trade Pact (although that series is overall better), but not very readable without the rest of the Stratification series.

Be warned that the publisher's summary of this book, found on Goodreads, Amazon, and other places you might read about it, is a spoiler for nearly all of the plot. It's not a very surprising spoiler if you've read the Trade Pact books, but still, publishers, don't do this.

Riders of the Storm left off with Aryl with a more stable situation, a new negotiated compromise with the Oud, and more information about the Om'ray, including the mysterious distant clan that no one visits. The origins of her world's balance of powers, and the goals of the outsider presence on her world, are both still opaque, but she's settled near the human Marcus and his archaeological site, so I was optimistic that we were about to learn more.

We don't. What the reader gets instead is more clan politics, worries about the new Om'ray powers that are eagerly adopted by the children of Aryl's clan, and only a few faint additional hints at the nature of the Cloisters. Aryl has more interactions with the Tiktik that finally lead to understanding more of the Agreement from the perspective of the other two races of Cersi (with rather dramatic consequences), and we learn quite a bit more about Om'ray reproduction. But there's next to nothing about how any of this strange and clearly artificial balance was created in the first place, or what the civilization that Marcus is so fascinated by truly is, or how it relates to the Om'ray, or even why the Om'ray clearly had advanced technology at one point in time that they no longer understand.

I hope the information that I wanted from this series is in the following Reunification series, since right now I'm irritated. (Although apparently not irritated enough to stop reading.)

On top of the frustrating lack of answers to nearly every question I had from the first book, this novel has a very odd structure, exacerbated by some strange decisions in how the Kindle version is configured. The last 100 pages are marked in the table of contents as "Teaser chapter" and appear after the dramatis personae. The Kindle reader even pops up the "rate this book" screen before that chapter, exactly as if the novel were over and this material were preview chapters of some subsequent book. I assumed it was a (surprisingly long) excerpt from the start of This Gulf of Time and Stars, the first book of the next trilogy.

It's not, although I admit I bought that book just to check for this review (I was going to buy it eventually anyway). That's a very good thing, since that last hundred pages was the only thing that salvaged this story for me, even though it uses my least favorite fictional trope.

The conclusion of the main story is weirdly abrupt. After lots of Aryl navigating the leadership of her clan, there's a very abrupt political shift (for magical reasons that I never found adequately explained) and the intensity of the pace picks up dramatically. Following some developments in the subplot with Marcus and some dramatic changes in the Agreement, Aryl and her people take drastic steps to resolve the situation, leading to the event that series readers will have been anticipating for the trilogy. But it's sudden and entirely unsatisfying, and if the book had actually ended there, this review would be much more negative.

Instead, the last part of the book takes us back into the science fiction setting of the previous trilogy and a reasonably entertaining cultural conflict. It felt much more like a Trade Pact story, and since my enjoyment of those stories is why I was reading this trilogy in the first place, I'm totally fine with that. Unfortunately, it's also infuriating because Czerneda forecloses on any answers to the historical questions I've been puzzling over for the whole trilogy. The details of how are spoilers, so I won't get into it except to say that I thought it was a rather cheap and unsatisfying device.

If you came this far in this trilogy, you may as well read the ending. Some pieces of it were moving, and I did enjoy the last part of the story. But this whole trilogy focused on the parts of Aryl's life that I found the least interesting and consistently avoided the questions that Marcus was asking and that I really wanted answered. I hope the following Reunification trilogy revisits this world and provides some resolution.

This is the last book of its trilogy, but there is a sequel trilogy to the earlier Trade Pact trilogy in the same universe that starts with This Gulf of Time and Stars, and it promises to tie the two trilogies together.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2019-11-16

Last modified and spun 2019-11-17