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Karen Traviss - AllyAlly is the 5th (and penultimate) book in Karen Traviss' excellent Wess'har Wars series, and thus the set-up for the much-anticipated final instalment.

It will be interesting to see how she ties up all the story strands and complications – this book shows how difficult it can be to actually line them all up to even allow for such an attempt.
Her main challenge, I guess, is also what makes this series such a great read: with every book the story direction changes, as new levels of argument and complications are introduced. Every time you think you've got the ethical, moral, religious, and ecological arguments and positions the story plays in (and with) nailed down – along comes another instalment, and turns it all on its head again; both through more extreme examples, as well as through demonstration of compromise under constraint, and consequences this has. Whilst this makes for a challenge, as the books keep taking you out of some kind of comfort-"I-know-how-things-tick-here"-zone, it also makes this story arc very very enjoyable as she refuses to trot out the same old 'it sold well earlier' approach. Commendable.

SPOILER WARNING. The following will (well, should) not spoil your enjoyment of this book. But. If you haven't read the earlier books in the series, and are planning to do so (I can only recommend you give it a go, it's worth it) then this will seriously spoil your fun from discovering where things are heading, and all the changes Karen introduces to keep you and me entertained and on our toes. So, if you're planning to start at the beginning, stop reading NOW.

Ally picks up where Matriarch left off – with domestic life on Wess'ej, both for Shan with her family, and for Eddie, who reflects:

Talking squid. Talking meerkat. Talking spiders. Seahorse aliens with two voices and two dicks. And they're the normal ones compared to Shan and her menagerie. "I try", said Eddie,…,"for a monkey boy, I'm not doing so bad."

Meanwhile on Umeh things have gone from well and truly bad to simply apocalyptic, as the Eqbas Vorhi, led by Esganikan, have decided that the easiest way to restore the planet to an ecologically balanced state is to eradicate the Isenj. All of them. And the sooner the better, as the main task – restoring Earth! – is still waiting. Homo Sapiens Caveat…

And on Bezer'ej things are going wrong, too, as Lindsay has now not just infected all remaining Bezeri with c'naatant, making them near-immortal in the process; but she has also convinced them to leave the water and live on dry land, and build a technological-military society. Or at least that's the plan – what comes between is the Bezeri's innate tendency to dominate their environment, and hunt without restraint. Knowing their history I'm sure you get the picture… and can guess who's now a potential ecological threat!

But the main new set piece is another race of aliens who get called in to assist Esganikan – who fought them to restore their world:

"The Skavu are the aftermath of the war. It means the newly awake. Their conversion has been fanatical."
"Ah, the road to Damascus" said Shan. "I know it well. Straight on, and turn right to Hell in a Handbasket. Great. Fucking Eco-Jihad."

Overall this is a quiet part of the overall story, with maybe slightly less 'action', and more introspection, discussions, and, not surprisingly, setup for the finale. This doesn't mean it's a weak book, it doesn't suffer from the usual 'middle-of-trilogy' effect much, thankfully, but it cannot avoid being interim, and scene-setting. There are no 'punch-in-the-stomach' events like in Matriarch, just more moral ambiguity, and further blurring of previously clearly black and white elements in the story. There I always more complexity, and no easy and clean solutions, as much as the characters (and the reader?) would crave them. The world doesn't work to Daily Mail standards, and Karen's Wess'har universe does even less so…

Recommendation? A must for readers of the series, either way. And the last book is waiting… I wonder if we'll see the 'big bang' action approach that this book hints at, or if things take another turn, and go quietly. Still an essential series, IMHO.

Title: Ally
Series: Wess'har Wars
Series Number: 5
Author: Karen Traviss
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Eos/Harper Collins
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: April 2007
Review Date: 080625
ISBN: 9780060882327
Price: USD 7.99
Author URL:
Pages: 388
Format: Paperback    
Topic: SF
Topic: Ecology

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