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Bren Cameron is the sole human delegate allowed among an alien race known as the atevi. The atevi, a technologically advanced -- but not yet spacefaring -- species, were the victors of a long-ago war with human colonists that had landed on their planet. The colonists, who were abandoned by their ship, became a province in the atevi Western Association. Bren's job as the paidhi, the translator, is to be the ambassador to the atevi and to slowly introduce technology to the atevi so that the atevi and humans can become space-bound. An assassination attempt is made on Bren's life, threatening this goal as well as putting the entire relations between humans and atevi in jeopardy. Bren must smooth the way between the two species while simultaneously trying to stay alive in a society where registered assassination is a legitimate method of law enforcement.

Do not read the synopsis if you have never read this book!
This summary was written for people who have already read this book.  It contains many spoilers and reveals the ending of the novel.  Since these books are published years apart, I thought a quick 10 minute review would be helpful.


The Pheonix is a colony ship exploring uncharted space for a corner of the universe yet to be claimed by any human or alien life. Her mission: Build a station at a suitable star to be used as the first jump point in a bridge of stations toward new planets rich in resources.

The Pheonix is forced to cut short her voyage due to a computer malfunction and is stranded near a binary star. She is low on fuel and not built to withstand high radiation from the twin suns. The crew locates a nearby yellow star, a suitable environment, and heads in that direction. 


Ian Bretano is among the first from the Pheonix to "parachute" in a one-way trip down to the new planet they have found. He is to help build a base on the planet that will eventually house colonists. Ian is working at the perimeter of the base one day when he looks up from where he's kneeling to see a lone alien, a native of the planet, standing quietly in front of him. The alien is more than a head taller, with black skin and golden eyes. It beckons for Ian to follow. When other humans run towards them, the strong alien grabs Ian in alarm, and runs. 

Manadgi, looks at the moon-man. It is small, pale, and seems fragile, unable to keep up with the pace he has set. He tries to hurry it along so that the they can reach the aiji, his leader. Establishing associate relations with the moon-men, who have advanced machinery, will be good for Manadgi's people. The moon man accidentally slips and falls. Manadgi tries to help it and feels sorry that it is hurt. He offers the moon man some water from his flask. The moon-man points to itself and says a word, "Ian." Manadgi tells the moon-man his own name. He tells it that they will walk slowly. They will walk to the village together. 

PART 3: 

The Pheonix abandoned the human colonists on the planet for political reasons. Generations have passed.

Bren Cameron, the paidhi, survives an assassination attempt from an unknown attacker. Tabini-aiji, the most powerful Lord of the Atevi, ups the security in Bren's apartment. Banichi and Jago, two members of the aiji's personal guard, are assigned to guard Bren-paidhi.

An attack on the paidhi, the neutral translator between the atevi and humans, is more than an attack on merely one person. It signifies a strike at the entire Western Association. Tabini-aiji's power as Lord of the Western Association depends in part on the paidhi's informational resources. Tabini files Intent to Feud on the unknown party responsible for the assassination attempt.

Tabini decides to send Bren to Malguri where Tabini's grandmother Ilisidi is residing. Ilisidi has an infamous reputation and doesn't always side with her grandson, but Tabini feels that Bren would be safer there than anywhere else.

Bren's diplomatic skills are tested to the limit when he meets the aiji-dowager, Ilisidi, whose first assessment of Bren is that he is of a "puny sort," and whose servant then accidentally(?) serves Bren tea that is safe for atevi metabolism, but poison for humans. Cenedi, Ilisidi's personal chief of security, apologizes for the accident.

After his recovery, Bren receives a message scroll from the dowager. He tries to ask his guards for advice on the matter, but they have all mysteriously disappeared on some unknown task. With some trepidation, Bren accepts an invitation to have breakfast with her.

Bren survives breakfast and the dowager's conversation only to be manipulated into joining the dowager on a mecheiti ride. After a ride on a spirited and stubborn mecheiti named Nokhada, Bren finds unexpected tourists at Malguri who want the paidhi's autograph. While signing autographs, shots are heard, and Bren sees that an ateva has been shot by the aiji's guards. The tourists think this is a show put on for them and applaud quite happily. Tano, one of Bren's guards, quickly takes Bren away from the action.

That night Banichi, Bren's senior guard, returns with disturbing news. The ateva that was shot in front of the tourists (by Cenedi) was an aquaintance of Banichi's, a guild Assassin acting without Guild sanction. Bren's enemies must have extremely powerful reasons to convince such an ateva to break from the Guild and risk dishonor and retaliation from Tabini-aiji himself.

One stormy night, Bren's guards are called away on an emergency, and Bren receives an urgent message from Cenedi asking Bren to meet with him. Cenedi asks Bren if he knows why his enemies are trying to kill him. Bren professes that he does not. Cenedi then shows Bren a letter from Tabini-aiji to his grandmother--and "favorite enemy"--the dowager.

The letter reveals that Ilisidi may possibly be involved with the assassination attempts on Bren's life, that Tabini knew this and sent Bren to Malguri anyway. Tabini's letter states that Tabini wishes to protect Bren, but that he will not make any moves against Ilisidi if she has any dealings with Bren and Tabini's enemies, since unlike his other enemies, Ilisidi has always acted with principles. In essence, Tabini is taking a great risk and placing Bren's fate solely in Ilisidi's hands when he is not sure who Ilisidi will side with: him or her other allies.

Cenedi then proceeds to drill Bren with question after question, asking Bren repeatedly: Has he been completely straightforward with the atevi? Are the humans hiding anything from the atevi? Bren does not understand where Cenedi's questions are leading. He answers everything truthfully as always. Bren is not hiding anything from Tabini or the atevi.

Cenedi then asks Bren questions that would harm Tabini. Bren refuses to give any statements that would harm Tabini even though Bren feels that Tabini has betrayed him. Cenedi tells Bren that Ilisidi's allies, who are against Tabini, want Bren in their custody. They will not be as gentle with Bren as Cenedi has been. Cenedi asks Bren one last time for information to harm Tabini. Bren refuses. The doors behind Bren open, revealing guards, waiting to take him away.

Bren is thrown into a cell, tortured, and interrogated. He tells his captors nothing against Tabini. They openly threaten his life and put a gun to his head. He still tells them nothing. Finally, the torture stops. They take him back to Ilisidi. 

Ilisidi asks Bren to look at the old abandoned station built by the Pheonix and tell her what he sees. The station is more visible in the dark countryside of Malguri than the brightly lit skies of Shejidan. Bren is able to see a strange object attached to the station. Ilisidi tells Bren that this object appeared and joined the station eight days ago. Bren cannot believe his eyes. 

The Pheonix has returned.

Ilisidi states that there have been frequent transmissions between the ship and Mospheira. Bren suddenly understands the attacks on him, the atevi fear that humans are hiding something from them, that strange ships will come from space with death rays and attack atevi cities. 

He swears to Ilisidi that the humans never expected the Pheonix to come back for them. That the Treaty between the atevi and humans was formed with the understanding that one day, space travel would be possible again, and that atevi and the humans at Mospheira would go into space together.

Under threat of his life, Bren had refused to make any statements against Tabini. He now understands that the torture had been a test of his loyalty. Ilisidi states that her allies still want Bren, but that she will let him go if he wishes. Bren senses that she is still testing him, and he elects to stay with her. 

Bren passes Ilisidi's test and proves his trustworthiness to her. Ilisidi decides to choose which side she will finally fight for. She chooses her grandson Tabini over her former allies. She chooses to believe the paidhi: the humans on Mospheira had not plotted with the Pheonix against the atevi.

Malguri comes under attack by Ilisidi's former allies. Under the protection of her many guards, Ilisidi and Bren flee the fortress on the mecheiti. They are joined by Banichi, Jago, and Bren's other guards, who had been ordered by Tabini to not interfere with Ilisidi's actions. Now that Ilisidi is siding with Tabini, Banichi and Jago are free to guard Bren again.

The group heads toward a small airfield where they will try to take a jet to escape. At the airfield, they are separated during heavy fire and a bombing attack. Bren manages to hide from the enemy. He sees that Ilisidi and Cenedi have been captured. There is no sign of Banichi or Jago. Soldiers question Ilisidi and Cenedi as to the whereabouts of the paidhi. When they threaten harm to the aiji-dowager, Bren is discovered.

The soldiers torture Bren and break his shoulder, trying to gain access to a portable computer that Bren had been carrying with him. The computer contains vital information that would be valuable to the enemy. Bren stalls for time. Ilisidi and Cenedi watch silently. When the soldiers are unsuccessful at breaking into Bren's computer, they decide to take Ilisidi, Cenedi, and Bren onto their airplane. They will take the three prisoners to their superiors. 

As they enter the plane, all hell breaks loose. 

Banichi, Jago, and the surviving members of Ilisidi's guards had already taken over the plane while Bren and Ilisidi were being held prisoner. They quickly defeat the enemy soldiers and free Bren and Ilisidi. They take off in the plane and report their situation to Tabini at Shejidan. Bren uses his computer to contact the Foreign Office (the paidhi is part of the Foreign Office) at Mospheira to find out what is going on with The Pheonix. 

He learns that communications between Mospheira and the Pheonix have been touchy. The Mospheiran humans do not trust the Pheonix crew since the Pheonix abandoned them generations ago. Bren tells the Mospheirans that it is in the humans' best interest to team up with the Western Association in any negotiations with the Pheonix. 

Bren then assures Ilisidi and the other atevi, that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the atevi get a fair chance at negotiations with the Pheonix. Banichi tells Bren that wherever the paidhi goes, Banichi and Jago will follow. Bren is honored.

They head home to Shejidan, and Bren thinks about all the possibilities that are open now that the Pheonix is back. Atevi and humans have a shot at space. It is a dream he has always had, to go into space, and now it is possible within his lifetime.