Well, I gave into the temptation. And then I pushed myself. Yes, I can finish a book of over five hundred sixty pages in a single day if it moves fast enough, if I love it, and if I don’t do much else. But I think it was well worth it.
Finity’s End takes place roughly twenty years after the conclusion of Downbelow Station. Probably more like eighteen, but dates aren’t that important. Mazian and his pirates are still out there, in the dark, but the rest of the world is moving on, towards real and genuine peace. It may have started by ending the Company Wars, but it’s the merchanters who now have to step up and make sure it lasts. And stuck in the middle of all these big, political backdrops is one Fletcher Neihart.
Seventeen years old, all he’s known is Pell station and, briefly, Downbelow. But he’s a Neihart, born to the crew of Finity’s End and no more than a ward of Pell. And his ship wants him back. Finity is the oldest merchanter ship still in operation, and they have been the backbone of the Alliance’s militia since the War ended. But now Finity’s gone back to trading and, as such, says it’s time and past to pick up their lost son.
You can imagine that seventeen year old boy is not going to take such a thing calmly. He was born on Pell, his mother died on an overdose of jump drugs, he’s been through numerous foster families and psychiatrists, as well as lawyers, and just when he finally got what he wanted, now he’s being ripped away from all of it.
By his family. His real, blood family. Nevermind how high Finity stands among the Merchanter’s Alliance. Nevermind that these are the people who look like him and are willing to love him unconditionally simply because he shares their genes. He may be done with puberty but he’s still more than young enough to take offense at change for the sake of change and the important choices of his life being out of his hands.
Like Downbelow Station, Finity’s End is about the ending of an era, seen through the dual lenses of Fletcher and JR Neihart. JR is in charge of all the juniors on and off the ship. He’s Captain James Robert Neihart’s heir, and the person most directly in charge of Fletcher. Fletcher’s story is mostly about learning how to reconcile the two disparate eras of his own life while JR is watching policy formulating change. The micro and the macrocosms coinciding, all on a single ship.
It’s a skilled bit of storytelling, on reflecting. Authors often use framing devices to tell the same story multiple times and ways within the span of a single novel, play, movie, etc. They say you’re supposed to repeat important information three times, to make sure the audience understands but also to keep it from being overkill. There’s a difference between making a point and drawing the reader’s attention and bashing them on the head with heavy-handed symbolism.
Finity’s End is not nearly as epic as Downbelow Station, but it doesn’t need to be. The Alliance-Union universe already exists. We’re just now seeing a change from the mess left after the one book into a brighter future. In fact, there’s not a lot of books that take place in Alliance territory past this point on the timeline. Because, frankly, peace is boring. Conflict is what makes for engaging and fascinating reads. But that’s no bad thing.
There’s just something I find appealing about Fletcher’s journey to understanding his place; in the crew of Finity’s End, in the Alliance, in the universe. It’s a satisfying read, even though there’s all those teenage outbursts that often end up in fistfights. To be completely honest, I take much less issue with Fletcher’s angst than I do with Harry Potter’s in Order of the Phoenix. Part of that may be that Fletcher’s got two years on Harry at that point. Part might also be that we’ve got JR’s viewpoint to give us a break from Fletcher. And maybe Fletcher’s just a more interesting character. He’s no Chosen One, just a poor kid who’s been pushed and pulled from so many quarters to the point where he retreated inside himself with a spikey shell to keep everyone else away.
I guess I relate to Fletcher. Sure, I was older than seventeen when I first found a copy of Finity’s End, but many of his problems speak to a variety of ages. And his solutions and revelations show that everyone’s important. Dirty jobs still have to get done, and everyone can take a turn and lend a hand, and it doesn’t lessen anyone’s dignity or importance. Nor does it make people respect you less. After all, the ship is Family.
I could still go back now, reread Rimrunners, Tripoint, or Merchanter’s Luck. But I remember what I need to from them, and none of them is quite on a level with Finity’s End, certainly not up to Downbelow Station. Those books are perfectly good, sure, but they’re not epics. Just good stories that help flesh out Cherryh’s universe.
So yes, I’m reading Cyteen next. Which means it’ll be a bit longer between posts because not only is that an oversized paperback, it’s a hefty brick.