This isn’t really a book review, or if it is it is a very biased one — I wrote the book. Maybe it would be more accurate to call it a much longer version of the synopsis on the back of Tourist Trap. A synopsis has to be very limited in length; this gives me room to introduce the characters and the conflicts.
Tourist Trap is the second novel I’ve written about the Jarnian Confederation. This is a loose confederation of human-occupied planets, with a remnant population of R’il’nians, who hybridized with proto-humans to produce modern humans around 125,000 years ago. Some of the hybrid descendants followed their R’il’nian progenitor back to space; others remained on Earth and became our own ancestors. Most of the pure R’il’nians are extinct, but the remnant and their descendants from recent cross-breeding have the responsibility of protecting the human-occupied planets from other intelligent races and (more often) of preventing them from warring with each other.
In Homecoming (set around the time of George Washington’s birth) the last R’il’nian surviving in the Confederation, Lai, discovers that the human lover who left him years ago fled because she was pregnant with his child, in defiance of the Genetics Board. The child, raised a slave, is rescued at thirteen and given the name Roi — but he is found because he is struck down by a paralyzing disease. Homecoming deals with Lai’s discovery of a woman of his own species, Marna, on a distant world and their acceptance, Healing and education of Roi – himself an untrained Healer — who must finally accept that he, as having the most R’il’nian characteristics of Lai’s children, will replace his sociopathic half-brother, Zhaim, as Lai’s heir.
Tourist Trap starts a year and a half after the end of Homecoming. Roi, now eighteen, has been given a trip on Falaron, a planet terraformed from ice age Earth, as a graduation present. His three closest friends from slavery have been given to him as slaves, though as far as Roi is concerned the slavery is simply a legal fiction that allows him to act as their protector while they gain the education they will need to survive on their own.
Roi is well aware that his father and the other adults around him consider that he is lacking in independence because of his slave upbringing, and partly because of that is determined to handle the journey on Falaron without aid. Underneath, however, he is both afraid of Zhaim and fearful of becoming like his older brother.
Flame, slave-born and the one who has known Roi the longest, has every intention of staying with him and doesn’t much care whether she is his slave or free.
Amber, kidnapped into slavery as a child, also loves Roi. But she is very aware that she will grow old and Roi will not, so she has decided to stay with Timi. She trusts Roi to release her when she has the education she recognizes she needs.
Tim, also kidnapped into slavery, wants his freedom now, and has begun to resent the fact that Roi owns him. In partial response to this, he is pursuing a friendship with Zhaim.
The Falaron guide, Penny, makes the fifth of the group. Dog sledding, hang gliding, a trip across a landscape much like Pleistocene North America by horseback, sailing across a large lake, river rafting and rock climbing are all part of the fun.
Penny starts out treating Roi and his friends as clients. But she finds herself caring more for all of them –especially Roi – than she really intended.
But Zhaim is using Timi, and intends that none of the five will survive their trip. He is not stupid, and realizes that either Lai or Marna would protect Roi if they had any idea of what he was up to. So he plots to get them far away from Falaron – Marna to combat a plague he engineers, and Lai to stop a holy war he has goaded on. Even before the two R’il’nians leave he uses Timi and the weather against the travelers.
The geophysics and weather patterns of Faleron were carefully thought out, as was the seasonality. Yes, I modeled it on the rain-shadow effect of the Rocky Mountains, but the weather patterns and climate are reasonable for mid-latitudes on an Earthlike planet.
I had fun writing this. I’ve had considerable experience with dogs and horses, and they, as much as the people, are individuals. Amber and Timi’s lead dog, Snowflake, is an older dog, arthritic, and a bit of a telepath – so was the first dog I owned. Snowflake might well be the leader on the cover of Tourist Trap. And the five horses they ride are individuals too. Roi’s Raindrop is a spirited animal that responds well to Roi but is far too much horse for Timi, who does fine with the rather lazy Dusty.
It’s science fiction, but the surroundings are primitive and the focus is on the people: R’il’nians, crossbreds and Humans alike. Try it. You might be surprised to like it, especially if you think you don’t care for science fiction.