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Singer from the Sea    by Sheri S. Tepper order for
Singer from the Sea
by Sheri S. Tepper
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 1999
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

From the time she was little, Genevieve knew she was different. Genevieve's world is Haven, one of many planets colonized by man generations before the story begins, after Earth finally became uninhabitable. The planet of Haven has two main land masses: Haven, with it's major city Havenor, inhabited mainly by the Lord Paramount, ruling nobles and their aides, and Mahahm, whose major city is Mahahm-qum, ruled by the Shah.

Genevieve, an heiress, has been brought up to adhere to the Covenant, by which she must marry a member of the nobility and give birth before the age of thirty. But her mother, who died when Genevieve was young, often sang to her of other forces, and there are many undercurrents to her passive way of life, and odd happenings going on around her.

Unfortunately, men who are greedy for wealth, power and eternal life rule this planet, which eschewed technology after colonization. Genevieve's quiet life at school (her right to which is guaranteed by the Covenant) is shattered when the Lord Paramount asks her father, the Marshall in charge of the army, to move his family to Havenor to serve the Lord's heir, Delgano.

Genevieve discovers many disquieting facts during this time, not least of which is the dearth of young women at court, and the amazing number of young mothers who perish of batfly fever after childbirth. Genevieve is destined to marry one of the nobles, all of whom are ancient. She is less than enthusiastic, mainly because she has fallen in love with a commoner, her father's equerry, Colonel Aufors Leys.

As the book progresses it delves deeper into the odd rituals of this seemingly perfect planet. The suspense grows as the reader's suspicions of underlying horrors develop. Genevieve eventually comes to realize that she alone can save Haven from the same stark fate that overtook Earth many centuries before. She has to learn her role as she goes along; she has never thought of herself as the savior of the world, but she gets help from unexpected sources as she grapples with her destiny.

This book is absorbing and (as any are by this author) worth reading, although the prose is not always up to her usual style. The tale moves along briskly and keeps the reader engaged. The rulers are equally revolting in their excesses, one in terms of his material acquisitions, and the other for his religious domination of his people. Both, however, harbor a dark secret that Genevieve has to unlock and to overcome.

Many readers of speculative fiction will already list Tepper as a must read author, and buy her new books automatically. They will find this another good read, though not at a level with the author's best. In Singer from the Sea, Tepper carries on the theme of sentient worlds, as in several earlier books. However, there is often a sense of d9ja vu, encountering ideas familiar from previous works. In particular, the older men's willingness to sacrifice their women to their selfish needs, is a regular theme.

So, whether or not you are a already a fan of Sheri S. Tepper, you will enjoy reading Singer from the Sea. But if you want to understand why this author is one of the top writers of speculative fiction today, then read Beauty or The Gate to Women's Country instead.

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