The Awakeners
Sheri S. Tepper
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Get *The Awakeners* delivered to your door! The Awakeners
Sheri S. Tepper
Tom Doherty Associates
496 pages
Copyright 1987
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

Sheri S. Tepper has written several excellent novels rich in detail and full of weighty issues, among them Grass and The Gate to Women's Country. She tackles both head-on and sidelong such subjects as gender inequality, miscommunication between intelligent species, and the troubling dichotomy between faith and religion. In Northshore and Southshore, the two halves of The Awakeners, she writes around intertwined themes of species interaction and the lies propogated by a false church.

The Awakeners takes place on a planet divided and encircled by the World River, a globe-girdling body of water that keeps all inhabitants confined to the Northshore. Thrasne, a young Boatman whose life is a constant journey ever westward, as proscribed by the priesthood of the Tower, makes his way working on a trading boat, visiting towns but never settling in one. Pamra Don is a young priestess of the Tower whose mother drowned herself in the River, a heretical act that kept her body from being Sorted as the Tower teaches. Thrasne and Pamra's lives become forever linked when Thrasne finds the hardened, Blighted body of Pamra Don's mother. He is astonished and obsessed with the woman's resemblance to a figure from his dreams he calls Suspirra. He keeps the Blighted body, letting his crewmates believe that it is a statue he himself carved. Every time his boat completes the seven-year journey to Pamra's village, he marks her progression, driven by the nearly imperceptibly slow plea of the wooden Suspirra.

Pamra's absolute devotion to the Awakener priesthood is shattered when she discovers that the human dead are not Sorted for eternal salvation, but either turned into zombie-like workers or simply consumed by the frightening sacred Fliers. The Fliers, the only other intelligent species known to Northshore, are actually indigenous creatures working toward the goal of human extermination and a return to their unchallenged domination of the world.

A disillusioned and schizophrenic Pamra becomes the leader of a new faith that will bring into the open a long-secret rebellion from within the Tower hierarchy itself. It will also bring Thrasne, helplessly in love with the indifferent Pamra, into contact with a young woman from the steppes of Northshore. He will become a part of the greatest expedition his world has ever known, to the unexplored, legendary place across the World River -- Southshore.

The Awakeners is told in dreamlike language, evoking an otherworldliness that seems almost possible. A fantasy with a hint of very soft sci-fi, this novel ruthlessly questions the veracity of the origins of religions. Arguably not Tepper's best work, The Awakeners still finds its own place within the body of her fictive works. Sheri S. Tepper is an undeniably strong, original voice in a genre that often relies overmuch on cliched ideas.

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