Mea culpa: I've never read anything by Julie E. Czerneda before picking up This Gulf of Time and Stars. Considering the amount of Daw titles I've bought over the years, I have no excuse. None whatsoever. Especially since the author is Canadian. Better late than never, or so they say.
I was intrigued by the premise of this first installment in the Reunification trilogy when I read the blurb. All the more so when I was informed that one did not need to have read the previous two series in the Clan Chronicles to enjoy this new one. That's not entirely true, but we'll get to that in a few moments. In the end, although I would have benefited from exposure to Czerneda's The Trade Pact and Stratification trilogies, following a difficult start This Gulf of Time and Stars delivered on enough fronts to make me want to read what comes next.
Here's the blurb:
This Gulf of Time and Stars begins the hard sci-fi Reunification series, perfect for space opera readers looking for unique aliens and interstellar civilizations. Sira di Sarc, the leader of an alien race hiding in plain sight among humans, must find a way to take her Clan home, in this trilogy within the award-winning Clan Chronicles series. To save their world, the most powerful of the Om’ray left their homes. They left behind all memory of their past. Calling themselves the Clan, they settled among Humanity, hiding in plain sight, using their ability to slip past normal space to travel where they wished, using their ability to control minds to ensure their place and security. They are no longer hidden. For the Clan face a crisis. Their reproduction is tied to individual power, and their latest generation of females, Choosers, are too strong to safely mate. Their attempt to force others to help failed until Sira di Sarc, their leader and the most powerful of their kind, successfully Joined with a human, Jason Morgan, starship captain and telepath. With Morgan, Sira forged the first peace between her kind and the Trade Pact. But it is a peace about to shatter. Those the Clan have controlled all these years will rise against them. Her people dying around her, war about to consume the Trade Pact, Sira will be left with only one choice. She must find the way back. And take the Clan home.
Julie E. Czerneda is renowned for her complex worldbuilding and for creating original alien species. It's not necessarily the case with This Gulf of Time and Stars, but we have to keep in mind that the author lay the groundwork for this new trilogy in two past series and most of the worldbuilding has already been established. Having said that, the Assemblers were quite cool. In my opinion, after a lackluster beginning, the story picks up as soon as it shifts to Cersi, the Clan's homeworld. Since the Clan members were stripped of their memories when they left Cersi and made Passage to the Trade Pact universe, the planet is as alien to them as it is to readers. The Balance between the Om'ray, name by which the Clan used to be known, the Oud, and the Tikitik is at the heart of this tale and shapes all three species' existence on the planet. But the truth behind this Balance is a revelation that will change this world forever. I also liked the references to the mysterious Hoveny Concentrix, the greatest alien civilization the universe has ever known, and how they might be tied to Cersi and its inhabitants.
Truth be told, claiming that this is a hard sci-fi series is a serious misnomer. Actually, This Gulf of Time and Stars turned out to be more of a character-driven space opera and fantasy blend. If anything, this could one of the most accessible science fiction novels I've read in a very long time. So please forget about this "hard sci-fi" label, as nothing could be further from the truth. This series can be enjoyed by any speculative fiction fans. As mentioned, those who have read Czerneda's The Trade Pact and Stratification series will probably get more out of the experience and find it easier to get into This Gulf of Time and Stars. Yet that doesn't mean that newbies, like me, cannot get into the book. It just means that it takes a while for things to finally make sense and you just need to bid your time and trust that the author knows what she's doing. There is a two-page "Previously, in the Clan Chronicles" section that provides a brief lowdown regarding the first two trilogies. I feel that the novel, and the series as a whole, would have benefited from something more substantial, especially if there was any true desire to bring in new readers. Hence, with very little background information, the reader is thrust into the story and things can be quite confusing at the beginning. It doesn't help that the first 60 pages or so have to do with a baby shower. At that point, things are more boring than confusing (for new readers at least), but stick with it. When the proverbial shit hits the fan, things will look up and the book becomes captivating. And though very little is done at the start to fill you in, Czerneda does provide information that allows us to fill in the blanks and make sense of the plotlines later on. I'm persuaded that I've missed out on some nuances here and there. Yet all in all, by the time I reached the end book, I had everything I needed to fully enjoy it.
The bulk of This Gulf of Time and Stars is told from the perspectives of two main protagonists: Sira di Sarc, leader of the Clan, and Jason Morgan, her human Chosen. Both are well-drawn and engaging characters and their different viewpoints make for an interesting narrative. However, Czerneda lays it a bit thick when it comes to the romantic side and what they mean to each other, and that can be annoying. She thinks he's tough, he's badass, and she loves him. And he thinks she's tough, she's badass, and he loves her. I get it. You don't have to remind me every chapter or so. There are occasional sections offering other points of view, but those are few and far between. And even though Sira and Morgan will always take center stage, I feel that more POVs from the rest of the cast would have added layers to the characterization. The cast is comprised of quite a few compelling men and women and aliens, chief among them Barac and Destin, who deserved a bit of limelight and I feel that more attention should have been devoted to them. In addition, it sometimes felt odd that Sira and Morgan are almost always smarter than everyone else and they're always the ones working out the puzzles and saving everyone's bacon.
The pace of the novel is decidedly crooked. The beginning is dull for the most part and new readers have to wait till about the halfway point before they have enough information to make sense of the storylines. Once the action shifts to Cersi, however, then the rhythm picks up and the story progresses at a good clip. The endgame and the final revelations elevate This Gulf of Time and Stars to another level and make you want to discover what happens next. Hence, you can expect a review of the sequel, The Gate to Futures Past, in the coming weeks.
Overall, This Gulf of Time and Stars probably wasn't the best jumping point for someone who had yet to read anything by Julie E. Czerneda. Still, I'm glad I stuck with it, for once the story truly takes off it makes for a satisfying reading experience. The ending packs a good punch and I'm looking forward to the second volume. Time will tell if the next two installments will live up to the potential generated by this one, but I'd recommend This Gulf of Time and Stars to anyone looking for an accessible science fiction novel featuring a strong female lead.