Mirage by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the latest in a series started more than twenty years ago (in mass market paperback, no less! I miss MMPs) about a fascinating alien race. Esen-alit-Quar is a Web-being, a (to use a memorable phrase from this book) "bright blue blobbie that eats tree trunks." Web-beings evolved in vacuum and can survive and travel in it, can take the form of any species whose DNA they assimilate, communicate with each other by exchanging hunks of Web-flesh containing specially sorted memories, and are damn near immortal (though they can be killed and kind of resurrected, as this book reveals). Esen is the Youngest of her Web, and this series tells the story of a bright, inquisitive, impulsive, curious, loyal, and good-hearted Web-being who strikes up a friendship with a Human, Paul Ragem. This relationship is the heart of the series.
Julie E. Czerneda is a biologist, and her endlessly inventive aliens and alien cultures are a highlight of the series. This is a good thing, at least as far as this book is concerned, because the plot comes in a bit of a distant second. That's not to say things don't happen. The All Species' Library of Linguistics and Culture, established by Esen and Paul in the final book of the first trilogy as a repository of information about alien species, is prominent in this book. There is a new mystery and some progression of the overarching plot. It's just reeeealllllly slooooooowww. There are lots of short chapters dealing with three separate storylines, and it seems to take forever to define the conflict in this book and advance the plot. I could deal with the slow pace, and for me the delightful secondary characters (especially Lambo the huffy, shouty Carasian and the Human Duggs Pouncey, who sees Esen in her native form dissolving huge sections of tree trunk and doesn't bat an eye) carried the book along when the storyline was dragging. Your mileage will definitely vary on this.
(One thing I did not like was this book's cover. It depicts Esen and one of the secondary characters, Evan Gooseberry, but...gah. That needed to be sent back for another take.)
A great deal of this book seemed to be setup for the concluding book in the trilogy. I certainly hope there's more plot movement and faster pacing. But this was good enough for me to pick up the final book.