The World Before by Karen Traviss

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Book Information  
AuthorKaren Traviss
TitleThe World Before
SeriesWess'har Wars
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Archren 
(Jun 17, 2006)

This is the third book in Karen Traviss’ ongoing “Wess’har Wars” series. In some series, you can jump into the middle of them and read the books as if they were stand-alones. This is not that kind of series. If you haven’t yet, go back and start with “City of Pearl” and “Crossing the Line,” otherwise this book will be largely incomprehensible.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this series: the writing is good, the aliens are good, the plot pulls you along and the main character is a really cool, strong woman. However, some issues seem to be overlooked, the science tends towards sci-fantasy, some character types are painfully stereotyped, and sometimes the characters seem to act like complete idiots in order to move the plot along the way the author intends. This installment of the series continues to further develop the main characters away from stereotypes, which is great. And there’s very few episodes of character idiocy until the very end, where there is a shockingly glaring one that I can’t talk much about for fear of spoilage.

There are five species involved in our saga now, and most of them have factions which give an excellent depth to the proceedings. We’ve got humans running around messing with things, wess’har trying to preserve environmental balance, isenj insectoids with severe overpopulation issues who are being bottled up by the wess-har, the ussissi who seem to be neutral go-betweens, and the bezeri, squid-like aliens starting up the technological food chain, now mostly wiped out after the events of the last book. Shan Frankland is the female protagonist in the middle of everything, including trying to establish a stable relationship with Aras, a wess’har and wonderfully sympathetic character. The plot of this book largely deals with trying dispense some kind of justice for the destruction of the bezeri, the local wess’har calling in their meaner and nastier cousins for help dealing with the isenj, and the possible repercussions that all of this will have for Earth. It's all very complicated, and Traviss is to be commended for keeping it all straight and showing the effects of the events on the characters in the most human of ways.

I wish I could recommend these books a little more highly. They deal with great issues and have some unique premises. They are also getting better with each volume (the next one is due out in the Fall of 2006). But they’re still rough around the edges, and if you have trouble suspending your disbelief in the face of unrealistic science or characters acting like idiots for plot convenience, you’ll have real problems reading on. The style is good enough, however, that I can usually suspend my disbelief while I’m actually reading the books and enjoy them a lot. It’s only once I put them down that I start to shake my head.

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