I very much enjoyed the first half of this book. I felt that it set up an interesting situation and characters: Lanik is a young man from a clan which has learned to genetically regenerate themselves, making them undefeatable in battle and virtually immortal. Unfortunately, sometimes the genetic modification goes wrong, and rather than just regenerating lost or damaged limbs, etc, the body keeps growing new parts, requiring surgery, becoming monstrous. Usually, those people are harvested for extra parts - which are sold offworld. But since Lanik was the heir, he is spared that fate - and merely exiled.
So far, so good.
Lanik goes on a quest to discover the secret of why a rival clan is acquiring unprecedented amounts of metal - which their planet lacks. What are they selling offworld? He meets a powerful black woman, a leader of her tribe, who causes him to re-evaluate his racial beliefs. She's a wonderful character.
But rather than stopping here, and tying the story together, at this point the book becomes formulaic and overblown.
Lanik travels from tribe to tribe, at each one acquiring some kind of superpower. (Each tribe is descended from one genius scientist who has passed on their secrets and abilities to their descendants - which is a pretty dumb concept in and of itself.) However, Lanik pretty much remains an arrogant bastard with a sense of entitlement. When he discovers he has been deceived, and that there is some sort of plot going on, rather than investigating the motivations and reasons behind the secret plan, he commits genocide against the tribe that the deceivers came from, and without consulting anyone, makes a decision that will affect everyone on the planet.
Card obviously wishes the reader to contemplate the moral decisions that Lanik has made, but I also got the feeling that Card thinks that Lanik was right, that his actions, although unpleasant, were justified by the strength of Lanik's convictions that what he was doing was the right thing for his planet. However, I disagree quite strongly - I do not believe that because someone is stronger, or believes themselves to be more enlightened, that they have the moral right to make major decisions for others. I also do not feel that the deaths of innocents are justified merely because those innocents belong to the same race or tribe as people that you perceive have done you wrong.
Interesting book. Three thousand years ago, a group of remarkable rebels were exiled to this planet as punishment for their uprising. Each has founded a family, and each family has spent the millenia perfecting their various skills. A young prince, disinherited from one such family, goes on a round-the-world quest which was meant to restore his family's power. However, the people he finds are so remarkable that he is slowly pulled out of his provincial shell and forced to recognise the strange value of his whole world. Having accepted this, he finds himself in an ugly trap: what evil is he willing to accept to save this place he finds precious?
A whirlwind adventure - classic Orson Scott Card, February 6, 2006
Reviewer: Peter W. Broadbent "Pete" (Houston, TX United States)
I have read most of Card's works, but for some reason this gem had eluded me until recently. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down - I finished within a few hours. It was a great medley of adventure, mystery, sci-fi and fantasy. A terrific story that I would recommend for all mature readers (there is some graphic detail that younger or sensitive readers may find objectionable) and fans of Orson Scott Card. Right up there with "Ender's Game", "Enchantment" and the Alvin books.
I found this book to be, mildly disgusting. And I'm not talking about the regeneration of body parts, and the excess growth of new ones! That was, actually, pretty unique. I enjoyed the differing talents each family had. And the, very general, premise - finding a way off the planet through trade with the government who put them there - was very interesting.
However, I found the main character's actions to be morally reprehensible and disgusting. I wanted someone to kill him before the end. You know it's not a good story if you want the main character to die, painfully and for good.
Moreover, I did not like the sexist, patriarchal overtones of the novel.
I really enjoyed some of Card's other novels. But, this one, I couldn't even get through halfway before resorting to skimming.