A fantasy novel about priorities and self and home
Many generations ago, humans came to a new continent, and found it inhabited by shapechanging weyres of half a dozen varieties, and by the shyani, humanoids who prefer dusk and dawn and whose culture was very alien to those early humans. After extended battles, a truce of sorts has been reached: humans hold the rich lowlands, where they can farm and build cities, and the shyani and weyres hold the highlands, where they live in small communities on a mixture of hunting, foraging, and small-scale agriculture. Along the border, practicality often rules, but on either side, old grudges linger in some hearts.
Some years ago, Corin, a student physician, tried to take his own life. The countless tiny wounds inflicted over twenty-one years of lying to himself in order to be, or at least seem to be, only what the society around him could accept became too painful to bear. At the last improbable instant, intervention came, in the form of a spirit fox, who led him away from the existence he’d known in the lowlands and into the highlands. There, a puma weyre rescued him, and a shyani shaman helped him find his true self and offered a rebirth, a life with no more lies, and an important job.
Now a shaman and healer in her own right, Vixen who was once Corin learns that the one human who mattered to her in her previous life, then a fellow University student, has come into possession of an old shyani book, and the more fanatical shyani and weyres will stop at nothing to reclaim it and punish Jared. Even though it means going back into the lowlands and facing Jared as a woman, she can’t bear to just look the other way. Not even the most anti-human fanatic will violate the deep shyani tradition of respect for a shaman, even of a human one, or so she hopes. This should be a short visit, just long enough to see the book into the proper hands and make sure Jared will not be killed for having it, and then she can return to the shyani community that has accepted her as their shaman.
But Jared is now Lord in his own right, with considerable wealth and power, and his response to her presence isn’t one she expected. After years living with the shyani, she sees everything around her from a new perspective, and that makes it difficult to keep to the plan of making as few waves as possible. As an honoured guest in a highborn house, with only Jared aware that she has ever been anyone else, Vixen finds herself questioning where she belongs: with the shyani, who accept her gender without question but have to make allowances for her differences, or with humans, in the culture she grew up in even though her past would mean a major scandal?
***Trigger warning: Vixen/Corin is transgender, if that wasn’t clear from the description above, and does make an attempt at suicide, which is mentioned several times and is included as a flashback in the text. Please take that into consideration if that’s likely to be a problem for you.