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on April 01, 2013 :
This is the sequel to _The Worth of a Shell_, which -- if people go back and look -- had me threatening to turn the author upside down and shake till the sequel fell out. Well, it finally fell out, hooray! ...and it's book 2 of a trilogy. *facepalm*
But hey, we have progress!
There are some motivation-spoilers in this review, but I tried to mark them below. Sorry about the incoherencies. I'm kind of excited!
So, not only is this a sequel to Shell, it's also a sequel to "Fire in the Void". The narrator for Pearl is the same as Fire's: Keshul, a charlatan seer who isn't always as fake as he'd like to be. Keshul doesn't want to believe in the Void (a god or ur-spirit of at least one Jokka religion), and he doesn't want to believe he's a prophet with the real ability to foresee the future (and/or hear the decisions of the Void...), and he's about to have a Very Bad Day. Lots of them, really. In fact, just about everything he ever knew and loved is going to be ripped away from him, he's going to be handed a task which he really doesn't want, and it's going to be a long time before he gets even a sniff of the good life again.
***We now pause this review because there are going to be some implicit spoilers for motivations. The Spoiler-sensitive should now avert their eyes, please!*** (Oh, for a cut-tag for Reviews!)
See, he's going to run into Roika -- remember Roika? All male, all ego, all control-freak? Yeeeeaaaaah, about that... So, that's Emperor Roika to you, these days. Roika has a dream, a dream of Jokka not, y'know, dying off. Physically, anyway. Emotionally? Spiritually? Who cares about that stuff! Roika, you're a control-freak jerk, and your little biases against neuters are going to be a real problem for you later... Unfortunately, Roika has indeed identified a problem -- and one that is also at the root of why his little Survival Of The Species At All Costs arrangement is also doomed in the form he's created.
The problem is this: Jokka have three sexes. Jokka can, and frequently do, change between them at least once and sometimes twice (so a Jokka could potentially be all three in its lifetime). Fertile Jokka (male and female) are at risk of mind-death when under stress. The females tend to be particularly fragile. And therefore any Jokka should know, "That could be me, losing my mind in childbirth, had I not turned male/neuter." Their empathy is *killing* them, because they're loathe to be the ones breeding (go re-read _Worth of a Shell_), and they're loathe to breed to even replacement levels, since it's not fun to breed with a brain-damaged female, and when one survives a birthing with her mind intact, risking mind-death again is scary for all concerned...
But Roika's empire, based on Male supremacy at the expense of Neuters and Females, is also forgetting this aspect -- possibly because Roika was always a Male, just as Dlane was always Female and Thenet was always Neuter. But many-to-most other Jokka will Change; the males may be "on top," but they know their childhood companions might become neuter slaves, or female wombs-on-feet... Or that they themselves might change in a second puberty. This... is not a recipe for a stable, sex-linked caste system, no matter how hard they try to indoctrinate the children in their creches.
And it's up to Keshul to figure a way out of this mess, before the empire comes down around their heads, whether for the reasons of rot at the core, the mortality of a mere Male, or the pressure of the rebellious lot who dislike being micromanaged even when species survival is at stake. Indeed, the tension between individual dignity and species survival is very strong in this book... And Keshul is the Void-chosen rope between.
Also included at the end is "Stone Moon, Silk Scarves" -- a short story about an enforcer for Roika's empire. If you've already got that short story, you won't have to change files to read it. If you don't already have it... now you do, and it's important, because Pathen is going to take over our story in book 3.
(reviewed the day of purchase)