"Matriarch" is the 4th book in Traviss' Science Fiction epic, The Wess'har War Series. As it is the 4th book I would advise people to stay away from this review unless you have already read the previous books.
The story picks up right where the previous novel, "The World Before" left off, with the the Eqbas preparing to take a break from their planned journey to Earth so that they can ecologically rebalance the overpopulated world of the Isenj. This leads to disagreement and conflict between both the different Wess'har & Isenj factions. At the same time, Shan Frankland learns that Rayat and Neville have both been kept alive and infected with the C'naatat parasite, the one thing she wanted to avoid at all costs. So the story follows both the various inter species interactions at the top level and Shan's obsession with hunting down Rayat and Neville to ensure the C'naatat parasite can not spread any further.
As with the previous novels in the series, the story continues to highlight the different cultures that could exist between different species and the various moral conflicts that can result from trying to accept these differences. I specifically enjoyed the closer look that Traviss took here in regards the family unit and how the Wess'har view on family was very different to ours yet Shan and Ade were willing to accept and embrace it. I do think that his book more than any in the series seems dedicated to exploring the consequences that can result from your choices, principles and hopes.
There is however an issue that results from this concentration on the various consequences that each character must face. The issue is that the book focuses on the characters, their interaction and development to the point that the plot of the overall story grinds to a halt. Whilst I found the added complexity to be interesting, I am a little disappointed that a reader could probably skip most of the book and still understand the direction of the plot and narrative. I just felt that it was missing some of the drive present in the previous books and really does feel like a middle series book.
In summary, whilst the book does little to progress the overall plot there is still enough here to ensure I enjoyed the book and continue to highly recommend this series to people. The continued development of the characters and exploration of their actions was entertaining and I appreciated some of the moral ambiguity that was present. One thing to note is that the book really does not work in a stand alone sense and therefore you really do need to have read the previous novels in order to appreciate it. Personally, I am now looking forward to reading the next novel and hope that Traviss uses it to move the plot along in a much more meaningful way.