Riders of the Storm

by Julie E. Czerneda

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Series: Stratification #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 1-101-21557-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 452

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Riders of the Storm is the second book in the Stratification sub-series in Czerneda's larger Trade Pact universe, and a direct sequel to Reap the Wild Wind. Czerneda is telling a larger story in multiple parts, so this isn't a series to read out of order.

Reap the Wild Wind broke apart Aryl's world view (along with everything else about her life) and gave her contact with a larger universe than she thought existed. Riders of the Storm builds on that, doing middle-book setup and stabilization and bringing the shape of the trilogy into clearer focus. But it takes its sweet time getting there. First, we get an interminable slog across snowy mountains during a winter storm, and then a maddeningly slow exploration of an oddly depopulated Om'ray settlement that none of Aryl's clan knew about (even though that shouldn't be possible).

This book does get somewhere eventually. Aryl can't avoid getting pulled into inter-species politics, including desperate attempts to understand the maddeningly opaque Oud and unpredictably malevolent Tiktik. There's less contact with varied off-worlders in this book than the last; Aryl instead gets a much deeper connection and conversation with one specific off-worlder. That, when it finally comes, does move past one of my complaints about the first book: Aryl finally realizes that she needs to understand this outside perspective and stop being so dismissive of the hints that this reader wished she'd follow up on. We're finally rewarded with a few glimpses of why the off-worlders are here and why Aryl's world might be significant. Just hints, though; all the payoff is saved for (hopefully) the next book.

We also get a glimpse of the distant Om'ray clan that no one knows anything about, although I found that part unsatisfyingly disconnected from the rest of the story. I think this is a middle-book setup problem, since the Tiktik are also interested and Czerneda lays some groundwork for bringing the pieces together.

If Riders of the Storm were just the second half of this book, with Tiktik and Oud politics, explorations of Om'ray powers, careful and confused maneuvering between the human off-worlder and Aryl, and Enris's explorations of unexpected corners of Om'ray technology, I would have called this a solid novel and a satisfying continuation of the better parts of the first book. But I thought the first half of this book was painfully slow, and it took a real effort of will to get through it. I think I'm still struggling with a deeper mismatch of what Czerneda finds interesting and what I'm reading this series for.

I liked the broader Trade Pact universe. I like the world-building here, but mostly for its mysteries. I want to find out the origins of this world, how it ties into the archaeological interests of the off-worlders, why one of the Om'ray clans is so very strange, and how the Oud, Tiktik, and Om'ray all fit together in the history of this strange planet. Some of this I might know if I remembered the first Trade Pact trilogy better, but the mystery is more satisfying for not having those clues. What I'm very much not interested in is the interpersonal politics of Aryl's small band, or their fears of having enough to eat, or their extended, miserable reaction to being in a harsh winter storm for the first time in their lives. All this slice-of-life stuff is so not why I'm reading this series, and for my taste there was rather too much of it. In retrospect, I think that was one of the complaints I had about the previous book as well.

If instead you more strongly identify with Aryl and thus care about the day-to-day perils of her life, rather than seeing them as a side-show and distraction from the larger mystery, I think your reaction to this book would be very different from mine. That would be in line with how Aryl sees her own world, so, unlike me, you won't be constantly wanting her to focus on one thing when she's focused on something else entirely. I think I'm reading this series a bit against the grain because I don't find Aryl's tribal politics, or in-the-moment baffled reactions, interesting enough to hold my attention without revelations the deeper world-building.

That frustration aside, I'm glad I got through the first part of the book to get to the meat because that world-building is satisfying. I'm thoroughly hooked: I want to know a lot more about the Oud and Tiktik, about the archaeological mission, and about the origins of Aryl's bizarre society. But I'm also very glad that there's only one more book so that this doesn't drag on much longer, and I hope that book delivers up revelations at a faster and more even pace.

Followed by Rift in the Sky.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2018-08-19

Last modified and spun 2018-08-20