Review: The Tower and the Hive, Anne McCaffrey

The Tower and the Hive is the fifth book in Anne McCaffrey's Rowan saga, and it shows. This book neither stands alone nor satisfactorily wraps up the story; it is not apparent from the text or jacket copy whether this is the last novel in the sequence, though the information at indicates that it is.

The Rowan saga (The Rowan, Damia, Damia's Children, and Lyon's Pride) is a science-fiction treatment of extrasensory powers, mainly telepathy and telekinesis. It is also, as the previous titles suggest, the story of the family begun by the Rowan (née Angharad Gywn) and her husband Jeff Raven, both Prime Talents. Prior books described how the human worlds allied with an alien species, the Mrdini, after coming under attack by another, the Hivers, as experienced by the extended Gwyn-Raven clan. The Hivers are insectoid creatures who deal with overpopulation on their colonies by sending out ships to clear suitable planets of all other life, sentient or not; in fact, they do not appear to recognize the existence of any creatures but themselves. As The Tower and the Hive opens, controversy rages within the Alliance over how best to deal with several recently discovered Hiver worlds.

Though the alien cultures and the problems presented by them were interesting, the earlier books were essentially coming-of-age stories, focused on the trials and tribulations of one or several members of the extended Gwyn-Raven family. This book largely sacrifices character development and conflict in favor of plot. One of the few emotional conflicts of the novel, Laria's uneasy relationship with Kincaid, is resolved rather unsatisfactorily: if a homosexual character is introduced in a previous book, and much fuss is made about how he is not attracted to women, then having him fall into bed with a woman in Chapter 2 of the next book feels very much like a cop-out. Disappointingly, what could have been an interestingly mature and realistically untidy emotional situation instead dissolves into an overly simplistic cliché.

In describing the effort to find a solution to the Hiver problem, the novel uses many characters, including several new ones who generally fail to make any sort of lasting impression. The book's jumping from ship to ship, planet to planet, and character to character often results in a choppy-feeling narrative, a problem exacerbated by the tendency of the characters to info-dump (despite the synopsis at the start of the book). Perhaps because of the disjointed action, the sequence of one of the novel's major crises appears illogical, and the overall plot seems rather weak. The book also ends very abruptly; a novel deserves a certain amount of closure, whether or not there will be a sequel.

The book contains several typos and one glaring error (in the synopsis); these are minor but distracting flaws. Since The Tower and the Hive lacks much of what made the previous books engaging though light reading, they are distractions it can ill afford.

%T   The Tower and the Hive
%A   McCaffrey, Anne
%C   New York
%I   Ace/Putnam
%D   1999
%G   0-399-14501-X
%P   302pp
%S   Rowan saga
%V   Book Five
%O   hardcover

Copyright May 22, 1999 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.

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