A couple of years have passed since the events of Precursor, but the animosity of the Phoenix captains still burns hot toward atevi and Mospherian interests. Despite this, atevi workers have made significant progress repairing the station, and no open fighting has occurred between the two sides. But things change abruptly when Captain Ramirez dies. Revealing secretive information about the distant space station Reunion and naming Jase as his replacement on his deathbed, events onboard the station move quickly from business as usual to full alert. A mission to Reunion planned in the aftermath, Tabini nominates Bren, his grandmother Illisidi, and his sone Cajeiri to travel with Mospheiran and Phoenix representatives on the faster than light ship. But with questions of power and authority during the long flight up in the air, will the ship ever leave Phoenix?
Defender better than some of the books in the Foreigner sequence, Cherryh does a superb job keeping the suspense high. Tabini’s actions seemingly inexpicable in the early going, Bren’s doubts about his position, which, when coupled with an unexpected assassination, serve to keep the diplomat/linguist squarely on his toes. Meeting the would-be captain of the space flight to Reunion, a hard woman named Sabin, only puts him stronger on the alert. The climactic scene taught with tension, it isn’t until the last moment the reader leanrs whether or not the proposed flight will take place. And the mystery of what awaits on Reunion? Well, that is for Explorer to define.
There is an idea floating around that bridge books in trilogies are useless—that a reader can put down The Fellowship of the Ring and pick up The Return of the King and not miss a thing. While I would say it depends on the trilogy (The Two Towers is vital to Lord of the Rings, after all), but for certain there are instances where the idea rings true. One example might be C.J. Cherryh’s Defender. Strictly from a plot perspective, one can jump immediately from Precursor into Explorer and not miss a beat. But plot is not entirely what the Foreigner series is about, and accordingly, Defender is essential. Developing the relationships, heightening the tension, and setting a grand stage for the concluding volume, the build up is worth it.