Recent Reading: Resurgence by CJC

Ooookay. Two things:

First, I accidentally ordered a copy from the SFBC after preordering a copy from Amazon. Therefore I have an extra copy, which I’d be happy to mail to anyone who wants it. I realize this is likely to be a low-demand book, because if you’re not already reading the Foreigner series, you probably don’t want to start with the 20th book. But if you meant to pick it up and haven’t yet, drop me a line.

Now, second:

I was so annoyed by Resurgence.

Yes, yes, I know, I shouldn’t say that if I want someone to take the extra copy off my hands. But I can’t help it. CJ Cherryh really seriously changed her mind about a situation from the last book, Emergence, and this more or less spoiled the entire reading experience for me. That is SO provoking in a series novel I was really looking forward to reading.

Here’s what happened: in Emergence, a man named Nomari turns up as a candidate for the vacant lordship of the Ajuri clan, which is important to stabilize the overall political situation. He is slightly older than Cajeiri’s mother, to whom he is slightly related. Though his background has made him something of a chameleon behaviorally, the reader gets to know Nomari as honest, brave, self-educated, deferential or forceful as required, and above all dedicated to rescuing the Ajuri from the terrible situation in which they’ve been mired for several generations. He is not putting himself forward because of a blood claim to the title, so much, but because he thinks he has a chance to get the job done and he believes someone needs to do it.

Most important, at the end of Emergence, Nomari is confirmed as Lord of Ajuri by Tagini. There can be no mistake about this. He gets a phone call from Tabini and is asked immediately afterward, “Are you confirmed?” He answers, “I am. He said I was. Is that it?” Tatiseigi tells him, “It certainly is. You are indeed equal to myself.” From then on, Tatiseigi addresses him as nandi – lord. Nomari is assigned high-level Assassin guards, the customary ashid, on the grounds that he will need protection as he takes over Ajuri. He leaves Tatiseigi’s house on the clear understanding that he is taking over Ajuri, having had over a hundred of his own people declare allegiance to him.

Well, apparently all that was just a dream or something! None of it happened! Resurgence opens with Nomari still being considered for the lordship! There’s no ashid; he’s being addressed as nadi, not nandi; he hasn’t gone to Ajuri, but is instead being taken to the capital to meet Tabini and maybe be confirmed.

I paused. What in the world? Is this going to be explained somehow? Nope. Not a word to justify this disorienting change in Nomari’s position and circumstances. He is also presented as both younger and more unsure of himself than in the prior book. Remember, this is a man who is several years older than Damiri, but here he’s frequently referred to as a young man. That happened occasionally in Emergence too, but the picture we’re given in Resurgence just consistently describes a younger man than seems reasonable. There are shades of the Lost Prince trope, suggestions that his people hid him because he could be The Rightful Heir. To some degree, this could be glossed over. The change in demeanor and – much worse – status just makes no sense at all.

Now, I know that changes like this happen all the time during revision, but what the hell? I don’t know whether CJC changed her mind, but it seems like she just forgot all this, because you cannot persuade me that she couldn’t have smoothed this out better if she’d spent ten minutes thinking about how to put Nomari where she wanted him for Resurgence. It also seems like her editor(s) absolutely fell down on the job. How anybody could read this newest installment and not realize how severe the disconnect is . . . I have no idea. Granted, I just re-read Emergence because I always re-read one or two of the more recent books before reading the new one. If her memory is that bad, then CJC’s editor needs to do the same thing!

Okay. So this was a serious problem for me.

As an added note, I could have sworn that Machigi – you know, the important guy from the Marid, with whom Bren negotiated in a much earlier couple of books – was already with the dowager at Bren’s estate of Najida well before Bren came back from Mosphera. When Resurgence opens, that appears not to have happened either. In this case I can persuade myself, more or less, that maybe I misunderstood the timing of events in Emergence – but I don’t think I did. I really don’t think so.

Besides the abrupt continuity issues, how was the book?

Regrettably, in every other way, Resurgence also stands out as an inferior book for the series, surely the weakest of the entire set. In Emergence, a lot happens, Nomari is developed into an interesting secondary character. Damiri takes an important role, where she is presented positively and in detail for almost the first time in the entire series. The problem with Ajuri clan gets resolved. Tatiseigi declares that Damiri’s daughter will be his heir, resolving that ongoing problem. On Bren’s side, he is introduced to Mospheira as an important atevi court official for the first time, which is quite satisfying.

In Resurgence, nothing much happens. The dowager sweeps Bren, Machigi, and Nomari up into a scheme to deal with a political problem in the south, involving the Marid and various things that link up to earlier books. This is all fine and good, but we spend an awful lot of words on it and it all seems tangential and, frankly, somewhat forced. It looks to me like the dowager and Machigi could have dealt with all that without involving Bren or Nomari. I get that the dowager is also taking her own sweet time assessing Nomari, but I don’t care – his status was resolved at the end of the last book and it just infuriates me that CJC is pretending that didn’t happen, or has forgotten that it did happen, or whatever. Nothing much is going on with Cajeiri either. The whole book seems like an almost complete waste of time, and then it stops short without resolving anything important. For the first time, I feel like CJC has nothing much in mind but generating words in a row to keep the series going, and as a definite fan of this series, I hate that.

So … I know, that was not exactly a sales pitch, but I still have this extra copy if anybody would like it.

[While I’m on that subject, I eventually did find my original copy of the 4th book of Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series, but not til I ordered a replacement, so I have two nice hardcover copies of that as well. Anybody want that one? It’s an excellent series, and though I read it straight through, I believe a reader would find that the volumes do stand alone fairly well.]

Now, in order not to kill the series, or (worse) let it die a gradual death from a drop in quality, where might CJC go from here?

First, her attempt to write in trilogies within the larger series has somewhat fallen apart. The 16th and 17th books form essentially a duology, then the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st are clearly going to form a quadrilogy at the very least. The titles signal that, as Convergence, Emergence, and Resurgence are all the same style of word. I presume the 21st book will continue or perhaps finish some moderately self-contained story. Then what?

If Cherryh meant to stop, she really should have done that after Visitor, perhaps, if not earlier. Given that she means to keep going, I think she should wind up the current set in some satisfactory way with Book 21, preferably in some way that resolves the continuity problems she just introduced – and good luck with that, because I cannot imagine how to do that plausibly, but she could at least hand-wave at the problem – and move on. If there is nothing much to do except fiddle with the details of the broader political situation, then stop fiddling with that, jump ahead in time, and start again with Cajeiri in his teens or twenties. That would allow enough time to have passed to set up a new set of problems, up to and including a return of the kyo and, of course, the enemy with whom the kyo is at war. Let Bren become a secondary character, go ahead and let the aiji-dowager and Tatiseigi die – I know, but they’re really old – bring Seimiro in as an important character, and Irene too for that matter, and go from there. We have the set-up for the next generation. Take advantage of that and move on.

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9 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Resurgence by CJC”

  1. Oh, dear. And I had been such a fan of the series. The last time I complained to CJC about an error-riddled book, she explained it as a copy-editor playing fast and loose with Cajeiri and having to go to an earlier version to fix it. If she has phoned this one in, we loyal fans should pull her up for it. Bren and the atevi deserve better.

  2. Thank you so much for noting the continuity issues. I have noted several of these in earlier books in the series (one that really stuck out was the issue of how many survivors were on the old station to be rescued). I realize this series covers a lot of ground, but there do seem to be a lot of these sorts of things in the later books.

  3. I don’t think CJ Cherryh is sticking to strictly three-book arcs all the way through this series; there’s been a duo in it before at 16 & 17, as you mentioned. To my senses, 18 & 19 were a duo as well, or maybe a quartet with 16 & 17: the previous book felt like the conclusion to the arc tying off the loose ends of the Kyo and the repatriated Reunioners, (temporarily) finishing the arc of getting the Reunioners settled, with the children down and settled on Mospheira and agreements in place for the rest.
    The assassination of the evil Ajuri lord/lady and the ousting of the shadow guild from their last stronghold in the Padi valley by nominating Nomari to that lordship also ended the background opposition arc of the Ajuri house being run by the shadow guild. That called for a strong statement at the end of that book, making clear that house is going to be in the hands of someone who opposes the shadow guild, if he can clean house enough to survive, hence the (too definite) way Tatiseigi’s confirmation of Nomari’s lordship was worded.

    Each arc, however many books long it is, ends with a resolution in place *for now*: as life goes on, politics never ends, and no solution is entirely permanent if enough opposition arises when the inevitable things go wrong. So the resettlement of the Reunioners on Mospheira may form the basis for another set of problems in another book arc, or it may go smoothly – no way to know yet, but for now it’s settled enough that we can leave that arc behind and concentrate out attention elsewhere.

    The same happened with the earlier trouble with the Marid: the agreement between Ilisidi and Machigi settled that situation down enough that we could divert our attention to the human problems.
    Now those are paused, we can refocus on the Marid.
    This book feels like the start of a new arc to me, in which we leave behind the human problems and return to the problem the Marid represents, as well as the threat the shadow guild in Dojisigi poses. Hence all the setup, and no resolution of the new problems yet.

    I had saved reading the book for this weekend, so I started it with your impression in mind.
    I did not find the disconnect you noted so strongly.
    I did not recently reread Emergence, so there is some distance to my recollection, but still the points you raise did not seem that egregious to me.
    1) Nomari’s age. He’s some years older than Damiri, at most a decade; he’s in his late thirties or early forties – nowhere in this book did I see a specific age mentioned. In the previous book we saw him from Cajeiri’s viewpoint, to whom that would be quite old. In this book we are seeing him from Bren and Ilisidi’s vantage – Bren is only slightly older (in his forties) but much more experienced in high-level politics, and to Ilisidi he would be quite young.

    2) Nomari’s position – here I may be wrong in what I remember of the details. What I remember is that Tabini on the phone gave his agreement to the young middle-aged man becoming the new lord of Ajuri, and taking on the most urgent responsibilities of that function, and Tatiseigi confirming that.
    The paragraphs you quoted indicate at least that.
    What I think is going on with his supposed status-reversion is that a new lord needs to be officially confirmed by the aishiditat. He wouldn’t be proposed as the new lord without Tabini’s okay, so it was essential he get that. With Tabini, Tatiseigi and Damiri all supporting his nomination he’s got the confimation as good as assured (as long as Ilisidi doesn’t take against him, which Cajeiri and Tatiseigi were not expecting in the relief at the end of last book), if he lives long enough for the government session to receive and confirm his nomination. So they could celebrate his coming ascension and the resolving of the troublesome Ajuri lordship by calling him nandi, even though slightly prematurely.
    But until that is formally done in the official government session, he still isn’t formally entiteled to be called lord in the eyes of the wider world; meaning everyone reverts to nadi. This also gives him some breathing room to observe how powerful lords work, and gives Illisidi the chance to observe if she too will back his nomination when it goes before the aishiditat.
    There’s a very short mention in Resurgence that he’s been to Ajuri with the Guild to reassure people there and install the Guild there with all the rights to dig through the cellars and archives (as he went to do at the end of the last book), but that they advised him to rule from afar for the start, until the Guild had made sure of a thorough housecleaning and all the potential points of trouble were found.
    So he’s the nominee with the support of most of the important players, he’s shown the house there will be an orderly succession, as lord-to-be he’s officially sanctioned the Guild to clean house in his family seat, but he can’t stay there until it’s made safe, he doesn’t have his own secure residence and ‘office of the clan lord’ yet, and he still has to be officially nominated and confirmed to the position by the “House of lords” of the aishiditat before he can get that.

    3) Nomari’s uncertainty. In the previous book he is already said to be uncertain in his new role, but determined to do well in it and looking for good examples. He’s competent in his previous work for the Transportation Guild and accepts his role as a rallying point in the underground resistance to the Ajuri shadow guild. All these elements are reiterated in this new book, from his en-passant knowledgeable discourse about what’s going on with the train, to the hints of a more central role in uniting or coordinating the Ajuri resistance, to the learning to be a lord of the aishiditat in the pressure-cooker environment of the dowager’s newest scheme to derail the manouvering of the shadow guild in Dojisigi to stir up a new Marid war. The latter means he is new at what he’s doing and needing to learn fast, which also includes Bren taking a bit of a mentoring role towards him, which can make him come across as younger. I did not get a sense of incompetence from him, but one of a quiet and watchful person, likely a much more central cog in the Ajuri underground than he’s let on so far – in the previous book his attitude seemed to be that he was pushed forward as almost a figurehead by that resistance, but was determined to do his best for them. In this book, I get several hints of him being much more of a central coordinator in that resistance, but keeping always in the background – as would be necessary to stay alive in such a position. Or maybe those hints signaled the “prince in hiding”, not the hidden resistance leadership – having grown up with some stories about the underground resistance to the German occupation in WWII I interpreted the hints through that lens, which might not be the direction in which an American author was thinking while writing. A “prince in hiding” might accord well with the atevi concept of an aiji being born to that way of connecting to those surrounding him as well as the way family/clan/lineage is important in the atevi culture.

    4) Machigi and his Guild aishid would not be welcomed by the Edi servants and caretakers at Bren’s country estate in Bren’s absence and without his orders to do so. Bren met Machigi in the Marid, at Machigi’s place; then invited Machigi to come to Shejidan to sign the agreement with the aiji-dowager. I don’t think Machigi’s been to Najida previously, so I don’t get why you would expect him to be waiting there for Bren while Bren is off on Mospheira foing other things, but maybe I’m forgetting some details.

    I wasn’t disappointed with the book, but do go in expecting it to be the start of an arc, not the conclusion.

  4. That’s a shame. I have fallen behind in the series, but this sort of error is very unusual for CJC.

    I’ve been losing interest and rather wishing she’d kill off Illisidi or something to shake things up anyway. Let them deal with how things change when one of the pillars is gone.

    Or something. Just… there’s been a pattern of Illisidi does something at the end that fixes things. What happens when she can’t?

  5. Sorry, Hanneke, I don’t agree.

    It’s not Ilisidi who thinks of Nomari as a young man — it’s Bren, his contemporary, and Cajeiri, which is just weird. How many nine-year-olds think of someone who MUST be in his thirties or forties as a young man?

    I caught the bit where Nomari goes back to Ajuri for, like, an hour. It’s too different from how he went back in Emergence. The idea his ashid — his ashid! — would let him go alone into an obviously dangerous situation while they ALL stay behind to go through whatever they find at Ajuri does not make the least bit of sense. I get that they cannot have man’chi toward Nomari yet, but gods most felicitous, have we not seen plenty of ashids in action? I don’t buy it for a second.

    Having read the books one right after the other, I feel his personality and history did change noticeably. I would welcome CJC revising this discrepancy in the next book. I think that can be done, but he just has to stop being presented as the one protected and he has to be shown as the one protecting.

    And while the job you do handwaving past the continuity issue of Yes-He-Is-No-He-Isn’t is about the best anybody COULD do, it is just not possible. Nomari was confirmed too explicitly in Emergence. You absolutely cannot persuade me that Tateisigi meant anything but “Yes, you are confirmed” when he said it in so many words.

  6. Great post. I thought I was the only one who didn’t enjoy this book, and I’ve loved pretty much all of them.

    Did you also find it jarring that the Shadow Guild has begun targeting family members/’friends’ of Atevi to blackmail them into doing things? Doesn’t this run extremely counter to Atevi nature/Man’chi?

  7. Devin, that part doesn’t actually bother me. The Shadow Guild has been behaving in an unspeakably dishonorable way for a long time. Threatening to kill a lot of innocents to force members of the guild to assassinate Tatiseigiis not that different from assassinating any Ajuri clan member for refusing to go along. It absolutely forces people to violate man’chi, but they don’t care.

    Now, if we were arguing about this in a book club — which would be great fun and a fine reason to join a book club — then I bet we could go round in circles for a good long time about how strong the man’chi-related instincts are and how and whether atevi can be forced to violate them and under what circumstances high-level people in a family might choose to target their own families and do terrible things to them. To me this would be a lot like the conflicts that can be set up with important competing human instincts, like the instincts for bonding within a family vs instincts for pair-bonding in a couple vs instincts for self-preservation vs who knows what else is involved, but obviously terror regimes get people to behave in dire ways, including targeting their own families. Think of Mao’s Red Guard, for example.

    Anyway, glad you liked the post, but I wish I had been able to write a totally different post!

  8. I remember hearing that J.K. Rowling and David Weber, among others, rely heavily on certain super-fans to help proof on continuity for long series. I can see how that would be immensely valuable, and why an author could easily get in trouble otherwise.

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