This final book in the Trade Pact Universe trilogy picks up three months after Ties of Power. The Clan have signed on to the Trade Pact, but their assimilation is not without its rough spots, and the break-away Clan colony seems to be up to mischief again. The Human telepath, Symon, may also be building up to some sort of power play. On top of all that, a contingent of Drapsk shows up with warnings of a new alien menace. Each of these story lines involves a number of peripheral stories.
Events conspire once again to separate the Morgans for most of the book. Sira spends several chapters locked inside her own head, suddenly reliving memories that had remained suppressed even after her previous mind block was removed. Though well written as usual, these passages do little to move the story along.
As before, Sira's first-person story alternates with third-person accounts of Morgan and several other key characters. Also as before, all of the characters and locales are well-drawn, the plots creative. There are murders, disappearances, chases, and assorted surprises. Maybe just a little too assorted. It isn't until the final third of To Trade the Stars that the narratives at last organize themselves around a "main" plot that gives some focus to the rest of the book.
If anything, the many story lines in Stars are even more sprawling than in Ties, which in turn was more disjointed than Strangers. Variety is the spice of life, but too much spice can overwhelm an otherwise fine dish. This trilogy has all the high-quality ingredients that make up a fine dish, but a little less variety in its story lines would have made it easier to savor their individual flavors and enjoy the blended whole. In the first two books, Czerneda set up several excellent story lines relating to Clan, Human telepaths, or both, all of which deserved better treatment in Stars. Instead, many story lines have been given pat wrap-ups-or have simply been dropped-without ever being fully developed. Czerneda's eventual choice of direction for the last part of the book is inexplicable in view of everything else she had to work with, and ultimately disappointing.
Czerneda's ability to create vivid and diverse characters, cultures, and places is by now well-established, as is her skill at braiding together a number of small but intriguing story lines within a single book. There are times, however, when the reader misses a strong, centralized plot to unify the wealth of information and viewpoints she provides so well. The Trade Pact Universe is a fascinating construct, well worth revisiting again and again, as Andre Norton has done in any number of otherwise-unrelated tales set within a common universe. Perhaps in future efforts, Czerneda will take her readers back to fill out those abandoned story lines, preferably with more depth and just a little less scope.