Sheri S. Tepper reveals in Family Tree a funny bone not apparent in much of her earlier work. At times chock full of giddy puns (as in the ingredient list of a far-future amateur sorceror), at others delightfully self-aware (in a discussion between a prince and his palace wizard concerning the nature of heroic quests), this novel still has serious Tepper at its core. It's just that the moralizing doesn't hit you full force until after you've been softened up by the story's central mystery and by one doozy of a visual gag. Family Tree begins unhappily, goes for the laughs in the middle, and ends with the liberation of the righteous.
Two plot lines converge about halfway through the book. The first involves Dora Henry, a cop in her mid-thirties caught in a loveless marriage to an obscenely fastidious man. A tiny weed thrusting up through a crack in the sidewalk is Dora's first sign that her life is about to change. In the course of a few short weeks she leaves her husband as a strange new species of tree begins to take over the suburbs. Mother Nature seems very perturbed, indeed. Not only is foliage growing unchecked (and uncheckable); three geneticists have been murdered in as many months, and the cases have suspicious similarities. Even weirder, families with more than three children are finding that their youngest are simply... disappearing
Three thousand years in the earth's future, a motley group of young royalty, warriors and slaves hailing from several different tribes sets out in search of the answer to the Great Enigma. It is a prophecy predicting the end of all sentient life in the world, and strange occurrences the troupe experiences mirror what Dora sees three thousand years in the past. The trees are in revolt, and when given voice they express fear of their own extinction. One madman from the companions' time has the power to alter their past, present and future. Chasing him back through time to stop him is the direction in which their quest evolves. And throughout the turns of time's wheel, the mysterious religion of Korè exerts its influence over nature itself.
Family Tree is unmistakably a Sheri S. Tepper novel. Original and charming, the tale can become a bit strident when Dora expresses her (and presumably the author's) views on humanity's dubious stewardship of the planet and its creatures. Her arguments are valid, though, and certainly some authorial passion is permissible in such a smart, surprising story.