When we left Bren Cameron at the end of Deceiver, he was in a very precarious position – not only in the middle of hostile territory but also in the middle of a potentially deadly conflict of man’chi (the feeling of allegiance and loyalty that holds together atevi society). It will take him some considerable maneuvering to escape with his own and his bodyguards’ skins intact, and if the previous novel was taken up mostly with intrigue and this politics, then Betrayer is comparatively heavy on the action, a large part of it consisting of Bren’s flight back to his country estate while being chased by assassins.
And Cherryh is just as good at tense action as she is at mind-boggling intrigue – Bren and his companions have to make their way through unfamiliar and most likely enemy territory, caught between two forces that are opposing each other and at least one of which is hostile to Bren, while it is far from certain that the other faction can be trusted not to shoot them on sight. While the reader is reasonably sure that Bren will make it alive through the novel, this is by no means certain for his companions, which keeps the excitement high and the reader’s breath bated. Everyone who found Deceiver a bit slow going, should be more than satisfied with Betrayer – in fact both novels complement each other very nicely, and considering how Deceiver ended in the middle of a conflict-laden situation with nothing resolved, one probably should consider those novels as one exceptionally long one. But starting this series anywhere else but with Foreigner is not a good idea, anyway – while Cherryh does do a decent job of refreshing the memory of readers in for the long haul, there is just too much accumulated background to be recapitulated in every new volume without bogging them down with tons of exposition.
Betrayer is also very focused on Bren; there are a few Cajeiri chapters but they tend to be short, with Cajeiri mostly passive – in fact he is learning to passive and finding out that being silent and patient can lead to better results than being noisy and troublesome. He is eight years old in this novel, but atevi apparently develop faster, and he comes across more like a bright fourteen year old in human terms. For the most part I think he’s a quite successful portrait of a teenager – he has not discovered the other gender yet, and I’m quite keen to find out what will happen once he does, almost as keen as for the arrival of the Kyo. Which apparently is still not going to happen in the arc following this one, but judging from the blurbs (I’m waiting until all three are out in paperback before I start reading) we will get some insights into the inner workings of the assassin guild – I’m looking forward to that, as that institution is still mostly shrouded in mystery even after twelve novels.