Exiles of the Stars
published in 1971
It was clear from the first page that Exiles to the Stars was a sequel and a quick trip to Librarything confirmed that this was a sequel to Moon of Three Rings, which I’ve never read. It’s neither the first nor likely the last time I’ll read a sequel before the original novel and in Norts on’s case, since she wrote before the rise of the epic fantasy series, her novels always tell complete stories, with anything you need to know from earlier books neatly explained. In Exiles of the Stars the things that need explaining are the protagonists, Krip Vorlund and his companion Maelen. Both are not what they seem. Krip outwardly looks like a Thassa, a humanoid alien race, but his mind is human, having taken over the Thassa body when his original was destroyed. The same thing happened to Maelen, now inhabiting the form of a glasssa, a small four footed hunting animal where she once had been a woman and priestess on a planet where the priesthood was adept at body switching. All this of course the result of the action from the previous novel.
Their prediciment shows up the important role psi powers and mind control play in Norton’s space opera, as it does here. Many of her heroes either encounter ESP or discover their own talents during their adventures. It can feel a bit old fashioned, on a par with the navigation tapes used to steer the spaceships. But in this case it also shows how large and strange Norton’s universe is, where her heroes are lucky to survive, let alone thriumph. Occasionally in the wrong body.
Exiles of the Stars starts with the Free Trader ship Lydis Krip and Maelen are part of taking on an assignment for the priests of Thoth, a planet in the Amen-Re system. They’re having a spot of bother with a religiously inspired civil war and want to ship their most valuable temple treasures to their colony on Ptah, another planet in the system. That treasure consists of Forerunner relics, Thoth being particularly rich in the spoils left behind by long dead alien civilisations. Things go wrong when they set off on their journey to Ptah and their ship turns out to be sabotaged, forcing them to crashland on Sekmeth, an habitable but uncolonised world in the same system.
Once safely landed on Sekmeth it’s discovered that the ship can’t take off on its own anymore and two people are sent off in the ship’s flitter to the Patrol beacon routinely installed on any explored planet just for situations like this. They keep in contact by radio but suddenly their broadcasts cease. It’s clear that whoever was behind the sabotage of the Lydis may be present on Sekmeth. Therefore the remaining free traders decide to hide their cargo on Sekmeth while also building their own beacon to call the Patrol. Krip and Maelen are sent out to find a suitable hiding place for the treasures and discover an indication that Sekmeth too might have Forerunner remains…
When a Patrol ship in the vicinity answers the Lydis emergency beacon and lands, it seems the worst problems are over, but this hope is shortlived. Coming back from the investigation of the disappeared crew members sent to the Patrol beacon, the whole ship is brought under mental control of an unknown enemy. Only Maeven manages to free herself from this and sets out to find the person or persons responsible. When she finds them, it turns out that there are not just Forerunner relics on Sekmeth, but actual Forerunners, a quartet of humanoids with vast mental powers, who’ve taken over not just the crew of the Lydis but also the Jack gang that had originally disturbed their resting place. Now only Maelen and Krip stand between these Forerunners and whatever their plans are for the galaxy…
There’s a bit of sloppiness in the plotting of this novel, as the sabotage of the Lydis seems to be unrelated to the events on Sekmeth — the villains there had no real need to bring down the ship, already having a Jack gang to do their dirty work and could only draw attention to themselves by doing this. Who was really behind the sabotage is never resolved, nor was the the trouble they had with the priests on Toth.
Norton also used a trick here she also used in Ordeal in Otherwhere, where the protagonist is goes on a journey in a dream or dreamlike state, then later discovers the reality of what they went through. So here Krip escapes from the villain’s base on his own, but when he leads the rest of the crew through it, it looks completely different from his memories. Both Krip and the reader are left wondering what happened.
Exiles to the Stars is so far the only Andre Norton novel I’ve read which has two protagonists rather than one, with chapters from both Krip and Maelen’s point of view. Maelen, a woman of power now locked in the body of an animal is an interesting viewpoint character, different from Norton’s usual young, somewhat naive and ignorant protagonists. An interesting change from her normal format.