The series follows a human paidhi (a diplomatic specialist in alien cultures) in his career as liason between a colony of humans and the native race of the planet, the Atevi, who are undergoing a dramatically accelerated transition from the beginning of their industrial period to a human-guided space age. Although a certain initial investment is required, the tale rapidly becomes engrossing. The paidhi’s unenviable status as the sole human permitted in close contact with the Atevi, with responsibility for interperting all contact between their cultures, embroils him in labyrinthine politics that threaten his life as well as planetary war.
The Atevi are rendered both tauntingly humanlike and deeply alien, with characters and personalities quite distinct from one another even within the overall strangeness of the race. The humans have their own depth of character. It is, in many ways, a remarkably well-written series. Rarely can I be induced to sit still for 6 books of politicing where the end goal is always a peaceful resolution of differences – even if that ideal is not always perfectly met.
Cherryh isn’t the type of author who hits emotional home runs when the bases are loaded. This is a tale well-told; it does not aspire to greatness, but instead matter-of-factly excels at entertaining and engrossing.