Friday, August 5, 2016

Cuckoo's Egg

by C. J. Cherryh

Story summary: Summary from Goodreads:
"They named him Thorn. They told him he was of their people, although he was so different. He was ugly in their eyes, strange, sleek-skinned instead of furred, clawless, different. Yet he was of their power class: judge-warriors, the elite, the fighters, the defenders.
Thorn knew that his difference was somehow very important - but not important enough to prevent murderous conspiracies against him, against his protector, against his castle, and perhaps against the peace of the world. But when the crunch came, when Thorn finally learned what his true role in life was to be, that on him might hang the future of two worlds, then he had to stand alone to justify his very existence."

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Humanity from an alien viewpoint.
  • The characters, the politics, the writing, ahhhhhh, so good.
  • Father-son relationship.
  • It's a fairly short book and a stand-alone, so it seems like a pretty good introduction to this author's work. (I haven't read anything else by her, though, so this is pure conjecture.)

And Why You Might Not:
  • Not everything is explained simply, not every explanation is given to you straightly.
  • The ending is a little open, in some ways. I think it's perfect and suits the tone of the rest of the story and it doesn't feel unresolved, but I think it could be found bothersome by some people.

Thoughts: This is what I was looking for, in all those many books I've read recently that just didn't quite hit the depth and complexity I wanted. This I think finally drove home the fact that I've outgrown YA, at least for the present time.* (Though it's not like I'm going to stop reading it, I'll just focus more on stuff I'm more likely enjoy.)

And here, for a little fangirling, are all the things I loved:
  • The subtly of the language. The thoughts in parentheses especially.
  • Hints of grand political maneuvers in a very personal story. (I'm eager to read her books where the politics are more explicit and central, which is apparently quite a number of them.)
  • Training!!! I always love training montages, and it makes me really want to learn all those things myself, and just be awesome.
  • The father-son relationship at the heart of the book--but with complexity!
  • And though I've always hated books that don't give you enough information to figure things out (I still remember how annoyed I was by Chesterton when I couldn't figure out the end of The Flying Inn. That was probably my fault, though, not his.), this seems to be the perfect balance of making you work for it and giving exposition. Or maybe I'm just smarter now than when I used to be confused by books.
Wheeeeeee, new author! So many new books to be excited about! Apparently Cherryh's specialty is hard sociological scifi and realistic aliens, and I'm so excited. So many new thoughts on the meaning of humanity to ponder! So many ideas about aliens to dream up!

Grade: 4 1/2 stars**

If You Like This, You Might Also Like:
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: Because it's fantastic, and also because, like this book, there's a child extensively trained for political reasons. And also aliens.
  • Shards of Honor and the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold: Because Bujold also writes sociological scifi. The writing is quite different than Cherryh's in style and tone (at least this book), and there are no aliens, but they both explore the meaning of culture and humanity in one way or another.
  • Homeland by R. A. Salvatore: Because of the intense mentor/student relationship and badass fight training scenes. Salvatore is much more derivative than Cherryh, but I still enjoyed this book a fair bit.

* My tastes seem to change periodically, and it doesn't seem as related to age as you'd think. For instance, the time when I most preferred difficult-to-read Classics was probably around age 13 or so. So when I say "outgrown", it may actually mean that I'll get back to YA once I'm, say, 40.

** I debated giving it 5 stars, but it didn't quiiiiiite give the feeling of impact that I feel like a 5 star book should have. (I may change my mind on this one, though...) Plus it looks like there are enough other awesome books by her that I'll get at least one 5 star from them, and I'll want the distinction between the 5 star and this one. (Sigh, rating is difficult, and I'm often not really satisfied with my ratings, but I can't quite get over the compulsion to order and arrange and categorize things.)

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