The third and final book in the trilogy. It’s part on the Sci-Fi Challenge in the Aliens/starships category.

Publication year: 1979
Format: print
Page count: 265
Publisher: DAW

The book starts soon after the startling events at the end of the previous book, Faded Sun: Shon’jir. Sten Duncan has proven to other humans that he has turned fully into a mri and left the human ship orbiting Kutath. He starts a long and painful trek back to the camp.

Meanwhile, the humans don’t know what to think. Admiral Koch commands the three humans ships Flower, Saber, and Santiago. They have followed the mri for long years to their ancient home world Kutath and they’ve seen dead worlds during their journey. The humans are convinced that the mri are the ones who destroyed the worlds. Combined with the forty years of war against the mri, the humans are quite suspicious of them. However, they can also see that the ancient cities on the surface of the planet aren’t inhabited and that the mri are likely a nomadic people living in tents, so they aren’t willing to just destroy the mri. Unlike their allies, the regul.

The regul are a non-violent species who have employed the mri as mercenaries sometimes against the other regul houses and most recently against the humans. However, the humans and the regul have signed a peace treaty and are investigating Kutath more or less together. The regul are in serious trouble: at the start of the journey they had only one mature adult and lots of younglings. The younglings can’t make decisions; they just serve the elders. Because of this biological imperative, the oldest of the younglings have started to mature which is a long and painful process. It matures as a male and a group of three other younglings mature as females. However, they don’t have any elders around to advice them, so they will have to decide what to do on their own, surrounded by the flaky humans and with the threat of the mri.

On the surface of Kutath the last two remaining mri, from the army employed by the regul, have taken over one of the planet bound mri tribes. The tribe resents the fact that the newcomers have killed their kin and tribe leader she’pan, and yet they have to obey the newcomers and trust that their new leader knows what she’s doing. Hlil and Ras are two mri who were very close to Merai, who was killed, and they both have their reservations. Niun, the tribe’s new warrior leader, worries about the distance between him and the tribe, and starts to even fear that someone might assassinate him. However, he fears most that someone will kill Duncan who is an outsider and none of the other mri have ever seen a non-mri before. The non-mri are despised by custom. He’s also afraid that the regul will just wipe out the whole tribe with space ships. However, the new she’pan calls herself the leader of all mri and she has a plan.

This is a satisfying ending to the trilogy. All three cultures clash while they are trying to understand each other. All of the cultures are quite different and they all wonder if they can trust or understand each other. The regul are non-violent, at least against other people; they kill their own younglings casually. The regul also don’t lie and because they remember everything, they don’t have much written records. They find both the mri and the humans quite baffling. The mri cling to their old traditions and notions of honor which have stayed the same even throughout the several millenia which the mercenaries and the planet bound mri have been apart.

There isn’t much violence in the book but there is a lot of tension. The characters are flawed in their own ways which makes them very human, no matter if they are mri or regul or human. We also find out about the history of the mri. Both the humans and the regul realize that this isn’t an isolated incident but likely will decide the fate of the mri, and also the relations between the humans and the regul for years to come.

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