Tep, likely successor to the Inutkak shahm, is studying at university, where the young ikut mixes with other human races – primarily bors and mantee. He learns of a new archeological study that casts doubt on ikut primacy on the world of Glaice – a study that triggers escalating violence between ikut and mantee groups. He dedicates himself to documenting ikut rights, and to finding the truth – goals that may be incompatible. Unknown to him, the Arbiter himself depends on Tep’s research to turn up information crucial to all human worlds.
With this third book in the Arbiter series, L. Warren Douglas proves that he is not simply following a formula. The role of the Arbiter – the thread that ties the books together – is quite different than in the first two books, as is the resolution of the problem. It’s a refreshing sign of an author working to keep fresh a series that by necessity must include certain elements.
Douglas does provide the now usual perspective of a protagonist’s race interacting with other races, and of the complications of intra- and inter-species mating. As usual, there’s a decent scientific background – including geology, but now also archaeology and complex food chains.While the science appears basically sound, Douglas this time presents it less clearly, offering a jumble of terms and concepts more likely to be skipped over than carefully examined.
The human elements of the story are more effective. There are some thin spots, but the relationships are generally credible. Douglas relies less heavily than in previous books on race-specific genetics for motivation, and more on cultural differences leading to confusion and misinterpretation. The result is more engaging on the emotional side, if drier on the scientific.
As always, Douglas does an excellent job of providing a solid stand-alone story while building on the common Arbiter thread. While the distance of the Arbiter thread in this book fits the story, I wish that he had done more with the Arbiter’s inner turmoil, which here is seen but not closely felt.
All in all, solid SFF that deserves more recognition than it has kept. I’ve been surprised to see how few reviews there are for these books (none on Goodreads). If you haven’t read these books, they’re well worth a look. The paperbacks are cheap if you can find them, and we can hope they’ll be reissued as e-books one of these days.