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Forge of Heaven    by C. J. Cherryh order for
Forge of Heaven
by C. J. Cherryh
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Forge of Heaven follows Hammerfall as the second in the author's Gene Wars series. In the former, after leading their people and demi-goddess ruler Ila to the Refuge offered by Outsiders Luz and Ian, Marak Trin Tain and his lover Hati watched their world torn apart. The sequel opens with a welcome overview of history, events at Hammerfall, and the powers in balance on Concord station - Earth's governor Setha Reaux, Outsider Council Chairman Antonio Brazis, and alien 'ondat' observer, Kekellen.

This episode begins centuries after the first. Below the Station, Marak and his wife Hati (essentially immortalized by their internal 'nanisms') ride 'beshti' (camel-like beasts) on an outback expedition. Far above, Procyon lives and works at the 'Heart of the Trend on Concord Station' - I especially enjoyed Cherry's descriptions of the Trend (whose followers apply gene manipulation to bodysculpting), and one of whose 'Stylists' is Procyon's sister Ardath. Procyon has been recently selected as a new watcher, who takes shifts 'tapped in' to Marak, hearing through his ears, and watching the world below through monitors. Procyon's perspective on his job? He watches 'God watching the world change.'

But the situation soon evolves. Below, the expedition is endangered by storms, earthquakes and floods, while above, they learn about the imminent arrival of an armed ship from Earth, with unknown intentions. At the same time, Reaux has to cope with teenage rebellion from his daughter Kathy. Once Earth's Ambassador arrives and demands to see Procyon, events spiral out of control, as a frail and convoluted political balance is thrown out of kilter by violence, sabotage, and alien intervention. Why do the ondat trust Marak, and what does he see in Procyon? Cherryh tells us that they are both rare individuals who 'broke the rules wisely.'

I enjoy any of C. J. Cherryh's series, though their complexity does require concentration on the storyline. Forge of Heaven is as excellent as all her books, and its focus on gene manipulation is timely and fascinating. I can't wait to see what comes next in Gene Wars.

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