There's no better cure for a bad case of Weber than a good dose of Czerneda.
Rift in the Sky is the concluding third book of Julie Czerneda's Stratification trilogy which is the second trilogy in her Clan Chronicles series (the first trilogy being The Trade Pact Cycle, a noteworthy collection of novels that not-so-coincidentally includes her breakthrough work, A Thousand Words for Stranger). Okay, that takes care of what this book is in terms of its publishing lineage for those who don't know Julie or her books. (Please go to [...] for the definitive bibliography.)
Then again, what is this book, really? "After all," says the jaded fiction reader, "Aren't series and trilogies simply ever lessening circles of repetitive navel gazing created to bilk a fanbase?"
People like that have never really met the works of Julie Czerneda.
As implied in my tag line above, I read Rift immediately following the latest Weber effort. While I will review that book seperately, the immediate juxtaposition of the two clarified exactly why Ms. Czerneda is an author to be admired and emulated not only for the pure enjoyement of a reader but also as an example of professional speculative fiction prose.
The Stratification trilogy encompasses a prequel story arc that forms the foundation of The Trade Pact Cycle novels. This continuing tale of adventure, danger, and romance provides many answers as to the "Why?" questions asked in the previous works but quite a few new mysteries are added to the mix as well.
As in all trilogies, you benefit most in Reading Rift by having read the previous two books, Reap the Wild Wind and Riders of the Storm. The characterizations created in the earlier works such as the two mains, Aryl Sarc and her Chosen, Enris, have grown and matured through the previous books in preparation for the new challenges presented in the third.
In all honesty, I really can't say that Rift is a "stand alone" kind of book that you can read without having read the previous two. I know that's the goal for publishers and authors when they kick off any book of a trilogy but there's so much that's been built into the first two books that trying to add it in would run the risk of a very Weber-esque case of info-dump-itis. Considering how good a read each individual book is in terms of pacing, character development, mystery, and layering, I think that Ms. Czerneda and her publisher made an excellent choice.
Why are all of these books good reads? Because Ms. Czerneda is, truly, one of the current masters of speculative fiction storytelling. She understands at a core level how the combination of pacing, implication, and believability have to be woven together to create immersive tales. Her attention to plot detail and foreshadowing is singular amongst her current peers. Her characters are all - even the minor ones - well realized and multi-faceted enough for the roles which they occupy. There are no cardboard cutouts in any of Ms. Czerneda's worlds.
In the case of Rift, she addresses a very complex and fluid situation for her characters in a such a manner that, although the reader is never lost, you still can palpably feel the confusion and desperation of those involved. The reader's trance never breaks. One has to keep turning the pages to see how the disruptions and dangers threatening the Om'ray's very existance as a people and species unfolds. Best of all, although you know that the heroine is Aryl Sarc, you never are quite sure she's going to survive it all in the end. There's this lingering worry that she will die or lose her love or her baby or have some other horrific thing happen that twists your heart around until the very end. And horrific things do happen, no two ways about that.
The depths of consideration into interpersonal and interspecies relations are another notable point of depth to the work. "Trust" becomes a by-word for foolishness and a flood gauge for how Aryl and her people fall from their simple, more naive world as the novel goes by. That there can be good and bad creatures within and without, and that the metric for good and bad vary by what serves the various species best provides for difficult challenges to the morals of Aryl and how she sees herself.
Rift, therefore, is a story that addresses a broad range of perspectives of various groups through the lens of Aryl's attempts to understand and survive. The pace of the book is fast but not suffocatingly so. Subtlety in the various details, foreshadowing, and characterizations flesh out the prose into a satisfying whole. Added to this is the attention to various scientific details that are de riguere for Ms. Czerneda that help support the reader's suspension of disbelief by helping keep the whole created universe "believable". The result is a book that satisfies while reading and lingers in enjoyable consideration afterwards.