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Being Honest with Yourself
on 14 February 2006
This book is something of an oddity, written as if it were a fantasy, but it could have just as easily have been placed into the 'historical' novel camp, with just some minor changes in the described locale and time, as there are no magical happenings, no flights of fancy, nothing that could not have happened in the real world.
The plot line is quite simple. A young girl comes to beg training in sword fighting from a legendary master who has 'retired' to a mountain hermitage so she can use the acquired skills to exact revenge on a lord who has desecrated her homeland and family. The master, former advisor to the old Emperor, is actually in exile, forbidden on pain of death from ever returning to court, and has settled into a simple life of meditation and taking care of his old war-horse, and not wishing to get involved with anyone, or to return to intrigues of the court. But the girl finally manages to force the master to accept her as an apprentice, and her training begins.
The interaction between these two characters during this portion of the work is excellent, as each displays traits of stubbornness that make for continuous conflict between the two. And the conflict extends beyond the physical training, into the realm of why one should or shouldn't take action against perceived wrongs, what purpose an individual's life has, the value of honesty both to self and others. This is well done, and I felt that I really got to know and admire these two individuals, as each has traits that are worth emulating.
But the second half of this novel, when the two take to the road to actually accomplish the girl's original objective, is not nearly as good, dropping down to a standard swash-buckling adventure novel, with action a-plenty (and somewhat confusing as the reader is hit with many minor characters and place names that are difficult to keep track of), but almost none of the fine philosophy and character interaction of the first portion. The ending is quite predictable, and left me with a disappointed feeling, as I could see this could have been much better.
Cherryh used something of the same type of plot line and character interaction in her Cuckoo's Egg, but there the resolution of the story held up to the premises and promise of its beginnings, making for a much better story, and I would recommend that book in preference to this one. Read this one only if you are desperate for more Cherryh to read.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)