Cloud's Rider
C.J. Cherryh
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Get *Cloud's Rider* delivered to your door! Cloud's Rider

C.J. Cherryh
Warner Aspect
September 1997
435 pages
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

C.J. Cherryh evinces genius when she writes, and too bad for those who simply won't read science fiction or fantasy. Cherryh's pacing is unparalleled, and her flawless characterization rivals that of many a literary icon. Cloud's Rider finishes the story started in Rider at the Gate, easily equalling the suspense and action of the first book. Cherryh doesn't just explain how the emotional telepathy works on this world where humans are the interlopers, or even simply make such a state of things believable. She sets the reader squarely in the ambient, forcing you to experience the intrusion and confusion caused by the indigenous fauna's ability to image directly into the human mind. Cherryh hasn't been awarded the Hugo for nothing.

Junior rider Danny Fisher and his young nighthorse mount Cloud have rescued the three Goss children from the massacre at Tarmin. Brionne Goss, who answered a rogue nighthorse's call and opened the gates at Tarmin to a deadly vermin swarm, lies comatose. Carlo and Randy Goss, whose imprisonment in the village jail for the shotgun murder of their tyrranical father kept the vermin at bay, have nothing left in the village that has always been their home. The only two senior riders left around Tarmin can't help Danny or the Goss children. Tara Chang's partners were killed by the swarm that Brionne Goss brought upon the village. She thinks killing Brionne would be the wisest course of action, the only way to avoid another massacre like the one that destroyed her own life. Guil Stuart, whose dead partner's horse became the rogue and whose presence on the mountain is Danny's sole reason for being there, is injured and incapable of travel.

Tara sends Danny and Cloud up the mountain with the remnants of the Goss family, imaging the way they need to take to Danny through the nighthorse ambient. After a stop at one shelter, the little group continues toward the next, hoping to make it to the next village in a series of hops punctuated by rests in rider shelters. Danny is a town boy from the plains whose experience with weather on the mountain is minimal, and his decision to leave the first shelter when they do is a mistake. Danny and Cloud, leading Carlo and Randy who pull the sled carrying their unconscious sister, end up struggling through the whiteout of a mountain blizzard. The trip to the next shelter should take only a few hours, but the group is still stumbling through the snow after dark in a world where a night outside stout walls in even the best weather can mean death. Frostbitten and dangerously close to hypothermia, they are drawn on by the sound of bells. They have passed not one but two shelters in the blizzard's fury, and have arrived without warning at the gates of Evergreen.

Brionne Goss still presents a danger, and Danny Fisher must pick the truths he tells Ridley, Evergreen's rider camp-boss. He convinces Ridley that Brionne must be kept as far as possible from the horses, and he tells of Tarmin being gone, but he holds back the fact of Brionne being the cause of the destruction down the mountain. Facts like that in the ambient could cause everyone in Evergreen to panic and could end in a massacre to twin the one down the mountain. While Danny tries to prevent his secret knowledge from raining destruction down upon his new safe haven, Carlo and Randy Goss fight for their own well-being. The prospect of claiming Tarmin drives the villagers of Evergreen down a path of greed and self-interest that could end up with the last survivors of -- and thus heirs to -- Tarmin dead. Most frightening of all, Brionne Goss awakens in the care of a grief-stricken doctor who wants to replace her own dead daughter with Brionne. In protecting the child, the doctor increases the likelihood that Brionne will draw to Evergreen not only another rogue horse, but a more deadly and unstoppable predator the likes of which humans have never before seen.

Cherryh is fantastically talented at rendering the implausible plausible, and Cloud's Rider is gripping and tense as a result. The world Cherryh has created for this novel and its predecessor is a frontier world where humans must struggle unceasingly to survive in their environment. Sheer courage and determination play a far more important role than technology, and Cherryh's masterful characterization is well up to the story's demands. C.J. Cherryh stands highly regarded in the genre, and for obvious reason. No sci-fi buff should consider themselves well-read until they've made the acquantaince of C.J. Cherryh.

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