Recent Reading: Divergence by CJC

So, here we are, the … 21st? Yes, 21st book in the Foreigner series.

As you may recall, I was not impressed by the 20th book, Resurgence.

The full sequence of the recent books is not tracking the trilogy model; that system broke down several books ago, which was signaled by the change in titles from titles that were words ending in -or and -er to titles that are words ending in -ence. So the current series includes Convergence, Emergence, Resurgence, and now Divergence. There will obviously be at least one more in this arc, after which who knows.

Now, I liked Convergence and Emergence a lot, and then as you know tripped HARD over a continuity problem between the end of Emergence and Resurgence, as Nomari was very definitely confirmed as lord of Ajuri at the end of Emergence and very definitely had not yet been confirmed in Resurgence.

I did not expect Cherryh to fix this — it is unfixable — so I went into Divergence with a gritted-teeth determination to tolerate this problem and pretend I never noticed the continuity problem. This, combined with a more active, fun plot, enabled me to enjoy Divergence much more than Resurgence. There is, however, a continuing problem with Nomari that got in my way through the whole book, which I will now share with you, so if it wasn’t bothering you and now it does, sorry, but here we go:

Nomari is three years older than Cajeiri’s mother. Yes, we are told this explicitly. I reread all the books of this arc, so I noted this speficially.

Damiri is, at a minimum, 28 years old. That assumes she married Tabini at 18 and had Cajeiri almost at once. This makes Nomari a minimum of 31. He could well be older than that, but he cannot be significantly younger.

In Divergence, there is great concern that Nomari and an unsuitable girl may be attracted to each other. She is 16. These two are referred to repeatedly, by Bren, not just by the Dowager, as “the young people.” This is just weird.

I am perfectly aware that in many or most human societies throughout history, girls of twelve or thirteen or fourteen routinely married young men in their late twenties and early thirties. Maybe this is typical of the atevi as well and we just have never seen enough of their marriage customs to know that. But it doesn’t matter. If Nomari is twice the girl’s age, it is just weird to call them “the young people” as though they are both teenagers. It is especially weird for Bren to do that, since he cannot be that much older than Nomari. It seems to me that CJC just decided, arbitrarily and for no reason at all, to age Nomari sharply downward and declare that he is in his early twenties. This was completely unnecessary, as she could have kept the exact same plot and aged the girl upward. Instead of a sixteen-year-old girl, she could have been a particularly shy, protected woman of twenty-four or so and that would have worked exactly as well!

So … FINE. Yes, I am unhappy by what appears to be real, continuing, carelessness from CJC or from her editor(s) or both. If you, as the author, change your mind, I think you have to do a much better job than this of fixing the continuity problems that you’ve created. But FINE. I will still go on with the series. A lot more happened in this book than the previous one, and I did manage to set aside my problems with this arc of the series and enjoy the story.

But I will never not be gritting my teeth during re-reads.

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2 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Divergence by CJC”

  1. She does occasionally have glaring errors of continuity with her secondary characters in this very long series.
    The worst was the color-change of the girl Irene, who was dark-skinned when Cajeiri met her on the ship, on the way back from Reunion, and a few books later she’s ash-blond pale.

    This aging-down of Nomari, who I thought was 34-38 or so, in his interaction with the 16 year old, and his too-explicit confirmation at the end of Emergence, do count as continuity errors or plotting errors too.
    He does behave older and wiser, and more calculating than the girl, and nothing says the sudden “coup de foudre” “love at first sight that doesn’t count man’chi” viscerally-felt connection happens only between youngsters. If the machimi can use it as a plot device à la Romeo and Juliet, but also upsetting supposedly deeply established man’chi (which to me indicated settled in their life, middle-aged atevi), and we’ve seen it happen (peripherally) with those two servants Bren took in, it looks as if adults can be struck that way too. He does keep his head better, if that is what is going on, seeming more like 26-28 or so to her 16, but that’s still nearly a decade younger than he was in Emergence. Either that, or he is much more calculating and less naive/inexperienced than he was presenting himself to be, in Emergence, and a more unpleasant person, stringing along a smitten young girl because there might be something useful in it for him at some later point.

    Him not being accepted (yet) as lord by Ilisidi (who doesn’t trust him and is testing him), while Cajeiri, Damiri and Tatiseigi did accept him and Tabini was willing to go along is spelled out here as the reason he hasn’t been confirmed yet before the hasdrawad or tashrid or wherever such confirmations need to be done publicly. His not being an accepted independent lord yet, so he can tag along now, is clearly important to this plot-cycle, which is why I think Tabini’s too emphatic confirmation at the end of Emergence was a plotting mistake (lack of looking forward to the next arc), though it tied off that book with a nice ending.

    While writing these books, IIRC between Emergence and Resurgence, Cherryh also wrote Alliance Rising, a new book in the old Alliance-Union universe of Downbelow Station, Cyteen, Hellburner etc., for which she had to re-immerse herself in that old universe. I rather think that break from living in the Foreigner universe messed up the remembered details and contributed to the continuity problem. But I agree, it’s jarring, and starting to make me distrust Nomari.

  2. Yes, Irene certainly went back and forth in coloring as CJC remembered what she was supposed to look like. I thought she recovered there pretty well, as she implied later that Irene had dyed or bleached her hair; eg, her skin color COULD have been dark while she had pale blond hair.

    Your suggestion that man’chi could suddenly manifest in unexpected ways is good, but I wasn’t bothered by the age difference between Nomari and the girl — well, I was, a little — but not NEARLY as much as by the “young people” descriptors, as though he were actually almost as young as she was, when he clearly was much older.

    I think you’re probably write that switching out of the Foreigner universe for a while probably created a situation where CJC might be more likely to drop plot threads and character details when she came back to the Foreigner series — but then, those are details that her editor or copy editor should have caught. If they weren’t going to catch things like this, then CJC needs a better beta reader, someone who has read the series multiple times and the most recent books several times recently, who is going to catch continuity errors. Obviously beta readers like that are out there: I could have done this and so could you. If Cherryh said, “I need a volunteer who’s very familiar with the Foreigner series to do a beta read for continuity,” she would undoubtedly get dozens of volunteers. I wish she would say something like that, because I hate, hate, hate having to grit my teeth and endure a discontinuity that should never have been allowed to get into the published version.

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