Changing Vision by Julie E. Czerneda
(The second book in the Web Shifters series)
In a futuristic world, where humans and aliens have spread across the galaxy, Esen Alt Quar, a web shifter — a biological animorph, the last of her kind — shares a trading business with her friend and human, Paul Ragem. On taking her first vacation after fifty years of self-imposed exile, danger strikes, both accidental and malevolent. New species of aliens, old enemies, abduction, ghosts, torture, a super-weapon, the imminent destruction of a planet, and family grudges all rear their heads over the space of 500-some pages.
Now as with the other Czerneda books I have read so far (just three, to be fair), this novel suffers from the breadth of detail it attempts to cover, and from the scope of its interstellar action. At the same time, and though there are a lot of them, the minor characters are carefully three dimensional and undergo their own personal growth and redemption.
Changing Vision sets itself apart in another sense as well; it is neither the sword & sorcery genre transposed into space, nor is it a thinly veiled pretense for a romance novel. While I do enjoy romance (and, of course, the inevitable angst) in my Space Opera, the strength of this series is the absolute lack of that inevitable love story between the two main characters. The relationships revolves around caring, yes, and a deep bond of friendship. You wouldn’t think that would strike me as a novelty, but I will say this: It is, and wonderfully so.
The story develops as conflict-driven, with a delightful unpredictability that adds a very real element of suspense to the danger–while the first person point of view promises that the main character will survive, other characters do not have the luxury of such an easy guarantee and that feeds into the tension.
Point of view is also used to drive the story forward. Shifts of perspective from first person to third person limited build the dramatic irony and suspense; the reader is aware of a larger picture, and the greater danger. At the same time, though, the presence of a powerful, faceless persona-non-friendly funding the main antagonists creates a sense of frustration and mystery that borders on melodrama.
Someone, somewhere out there, knows Esen’s secret.
On the writing front, the story uses quite a bit of foreshadowing (ex. “A shame, I would realize later, that I was wrong.” and “There wasn’t much sign of anything going wrong at first.”) to keep the reader engaged. And surprisingly, it works, stringing the reader along from disaster to capture to stand-off to disaster.
The series itself is best summed up with this quote from David Brugman’s review:
“A delightful coming-of-age story for a [five]-hundred-year-old adolescent blue blob. “
And if that’s not enough to convince you, it’s not every series that can pull off a fifty-year time-skip between the first and second book.