Click here to read reviewer Sarah Meador's take on Hammerfall.
If sf/f authors earned awards based on sheer volume of works, C.J. Cherryh would be right up near the top of such a shortlist. As it stands, the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning writer more than deserves the laurels she's already gathered in. In the haunting new universe of the "Gene Wars" saga (Cherryh's first all-new setting in some years), the master spins a haunting tale of a man and his people coming to a new awareness of their place in the grand scheme of things. Notable for its austere setting, passionately reserved characters and marvelously gradual plot-unfolding, Hammerfall stands alone as a perfect novel -- even as it sets the stage for a sweeping new saga.
The son of an ambitious desert rebel, Marak has heard voices calling his name and felt a nearly irresistible pull toward the deadly desert in the east for all his life. He's been able to hide the signs of the abominated madness that afflicts others of his people, whether they be villagers or of the desert tribes, until a particularly virulent fit strikes him and he is discovered. Marak's father, obsessed with destroying the supposed god-on-earth Ila, abandons both his quest and his son when the Ila calls for the mad to be brought to her in the holy oasis city of Oburan.
Dead already to his family, Marak vows to somehow kill the Ila before he himself is destroyed. To his shock, however, the ruler cum deity orders him to trek east, to find what might lie there, and to report back to her. The young man's curiosity overpowers his desire for vengeance, and with the full contingent of the mad and a master caravaner to lead the way, Marak sets out across the deadly Lakht. Beset by killer sandstorms and voracious desert vermin of many species, Marak and his odd company discover a paradise at the desert's opposite edge -- only to learn that their quest is far from over, and that their is an enemy far greater and far more deadly than the madness and the mysterious, tiny "makers" deliberately inflicted upon them.
The deliberate unfolding of the truth behind the collective madness drives Hammerfall's plot, and it is a surprising, almost incomprehensible truth to the seemingly primitive people whom it threatens to destroy. In the protagonist, Marak, C.J. Cherryh once again triumphs in creating the palpable weight of responsibility shouldered by a separate, solitary individual that is the hallmark of her greatest works. Allowing the reader to see advanced technology through the eyes of a simpler people imparts the sense of wonder, superstition and myth that makes this a truly great work. Cherry's "Gene Wars" is off to an impeccable start.