This was a Del Rey Discovery book some fifteen years ago, and my copy is a paperback that gleefully splashes that information all over. Ms. Wentworth’s first novel was The Imperium Game, published in 1994, but for some reason it was decided that this second book would be a good Discovery. Apparently she got her start via the Writers of the Future contest, and now is an editor for it. Her short stories “Tall One” and “Burning Bright” were Nebula finalists. Apparently a couple of her novels are available via the Baen Free Library, and she has made some contributions to Eric Flint’s giant 1632 complex.
Haemas is the only child, daughter, and heir to the Tal’ayn house; she and her father have a difficult relationship, and just before her Testing and Naming (where she would be tested for psionic talent, mostly telepathy, and then officially given her title in the community), it appears that she has attacked and killed her father. She gets dumped outside, all her mind-senses terribly hurt, and runs away to be among the non-telepathic beings. Unfortunately, she had gotten caught in the middle of a conspiracy, and her father wasn’t actually killed. Now her cousin — a conspirator — and a searcher from a house of something like a college are trying to find her, either to kill her or to save her life. Will she survive?
It is very unfortunate that the golden-haired, golden-eyed ruling class in this book is called the Kashi, because that’s also the brand of granola bars that I eat most mornings. “Chierra,” the name for the non-talented and often slave class, reminds me of the singing llama-like creatures in the early Mercedes Lackey books, as well. However, I’m not actually holding that against the story; it’s very possible that Kashi brand anything hadn’t been invented yet when this book was written, and the chierra dilemma is an association in my own brain. (ML’s creatures are chirras.)
I get the idea that this is one of those so-far-into-the-future-that-it’s-a-fantasy-world kind of science fiction novels; the Kashi and chierra are descendents of humans who have segregated by presence of telepathic talent. There are several references to ‘Old’ items such as apple trees and oak, and also creatures called the ilseri that, it is implied, are the original inhabitants of the planet. While some standard Earth-like animals such as horses and silsha (panthers) appear to be around, there are also three moons (some part of me wonders what havoc that wreaks on the tide) and all sorts of plants that seem to be similar but unrelated to Earth plants.
While Haemas’s conflict with those who want to kill her (and her father) appears to be the major impetus of the story, another story slowly develops below, regarding time travel. The male Kashi (who rule the society, of course) have been trying for years to figure out how to open up a doorway to travel between different timelines, and the ilseri (the original inhabitants; they’re sort of non-corporeal) are worried. The way that the men are doing it could possibly ruin things, and they enlist Haemas to make them stop. That secondary conflict is significantly larger — more, shall we say, epic — than the conflict between Haemas and the conspirators, and it sustains the story into a second volume, House of Moons.
Haemas is not really possessed of a lot of personality. Certainly she develops more as the book continues, but it’s generally just the blank-slate wunderkind type of personality. Her surrounding cast of characters, including the searcher (Kevisson), the searcher’s teacher (Master Ellirt), a couple of chierra (Cale and Eevlina), and even her father and stepmother are significantly more interesting. There are a fair number of Kashi lords who show up and give hints of being more important in the future, or at least having more depth than they seem at first to possess. I’d like to read the second volume, if I can ever find a copy of it, but it’s not because the main character won me over in particular. Fortunately, because the plot is good and the secondary characters generally appealing (or at least interestingly repulsive), I’ll recommend the book and give it 3.5/5 stars.