C. J. Cherryh
Premise: Marak Trin is a madman. Like many, he tried to hide it - did successfully hide it for years. But finally the visions and the voices were too much, and when the Ila's men came rounding up the mad, his father the rebel leader surrendered him to the soldiers, and made a kind of peace with the Ila. All the mad are being brought across the desert to the holy city, for the Ila herself to judge. The Ila knows an opportunity when she sees one, and Marak will have a chance to solve the riddle of the visions. He has to try, if he wants to rescue his mother, himself, and possibly all the people living on the Lakht.
It's an especially strong entry in the sub-genre of books which don't start out looking like science fiction, but get there in the end. For the first part of the book, it's simply an intriguing story of a group of oppressed people in a desert country who are just trying to make their way in the world. Eventually it becomes clear (no surprise, given the series' title) that the people of the Lahkt are about to be caught up in a war between races with incredible powers of bioengineering. Marak and his companions never fully understand what is going on, it's so far removed from their daily life. They can only guess as best they can at the motives of people who seem to them to be gods.
The portrait of the Ila's created society eventually explains many of its more illogical aspects. The balance between explanation and mystery is well done.
I really liked the character of Marak: divorced from everything he'd known or been taught, he finds within himself an ability to grasp the ineffable and a determination to protect others that he'd hardly suspected. Hati, a fierce tribeswoman among the mad, is also a fascinating character.
The descriptions of travel across the desert were full of delicate detail and seemed realistic. By the time the book switches gears into a race against time, I understood the magnitude of what the characters were up against.
Overall, a solid, engrossing read.
4 Stars - A Great Book