Being prolific doesn't necessarily equal excellence for novel writers.
In C.J. Cherryh's case, however, prolific excellence is anything but
an oxymoron. The author of more than 30 novels (including the Chanur
cycle, Tripoint and Cyteen) and winner of
multiple awards, Cherryh proves once again with Rider at the Gate
why she is a mainstay of quality science fiction. Convincing, fleshed-out
characterization, a keen sense of dramatic pacing and vivid world-building
make this novel a must-read.
On a world where the telepathic abilities of the native fauna pose
a serious threat to the mental well-being of the humans descended from long-ago
colonists, only the Riders possess any sort of protection from the
potential madness of the Wild. A handful of humans chosen by the
alien Nighthorses, the Riders accompany caravans of supplies and deliver
goods between the walled towns where all other humans find a modicum of
safety from the insanity-inducing projections of the creatures of the
Wild. Danny Fisher is a young Rider with a young Nighthorse companion, Cloud.
Danny has his hands full learning to control both himself and his
stubborn, high-strung Nighthorse, as well as trying to keep his bond
with Cloud from ripping his family apart. Most humans (not including
Riders) hold a religious view that the telepathy of the creatures of
the Wild -- Nighthorses and their Riders included -- is the siren song
of the Devil, and that any who heed that call are damned. While Danny's
family appreciates the extra money Danny's Riding brings in, they are
loath to acknowledge its source.
When a Rider wintering in Danny's town, Guil Stuart, hears of the
death of his partner and lover on a high mountain pass, his pain and
anger spread through the collective consciousness of the town like
wildfire. Guil is forced from the shaken town at gunpoint and, wounded
and without supplies, he sets off into the white winds of winter to
seek out and destroy the rogue Nighthorse that caused the death of
his partner and her mare. Danny's youthful lack of telepathic control
and his respect for Guil form a faint link between him and the wounded
Rider, and Danny sets off with the kin and final companions of Guil's
partner to find Guil and help him destroy the dangerous rogue Nighthorse
somewhere up in the mountains.
Bitter rivalries, long-buried until now, will bring Guil's enemies
on the chase right behind Danny's group. While the rogue sends madness
and death into settlements on the mountain, Danny is torn between his desire
to help Guil and his wish to flee ill-treatment at the hands of Guil's supposed "friends."
Guil and his sardonic Nighthorse Burn will find out that there is more
to his partner's death and life than he ever imagined, and his
discoveries will increase the stakes of this manhunt through the unforgiving
winter of the Wild.
C.J. Cherryh is something very near a genius when it comes to suspenseful
pacing. The immediacy of the telepathic ambient created by man and Nighthorse
means that every thought must be a cautious one. A sudden flare of anger
in one person can create a blindingly fast epidemic of violence in the
vulnerable and volatile human settlements. Cherryh captures that sense
of always treading on thin ice brilliantly. Rider at the Gate
stands as a pillar of quality in the subgenre of soft sci-fi.