Katie Waitman,
The Divided
(Del Rey, 1999)

Katie Waitman explores the line between faith and zealotry in The Divided, her second science fiction novel.

Sekme is a commander in the Maurheti army dedicated to squelching the godless Tel-mari insurgents; she is young, 24 and female, which in her society means that she has to be exceptional -- and she is. Her father, a pilot, died in a raid over a Tel-mari city when she was 12, and Sekme decided early on that as first-born in her family she would follow in his footsteps. Her zeal in leading her forces against the Tel-mari is matched only by her ruthless efficiency.

She has a sense of rightness in her actions; Maurheti scriptures decree that the Maurheti were created by God, while the Tel-maris are the product of the Not-God and are, therefore, damned. It would be no surprise to learn that the Tel-mari disagree with this theological point and resist all attempts to be either converted or destroyed.

Things start to shift when Sekme orders a bombing raid similar in scale to the one in which her father died, and while at first it goes according to plan, the Tel-mari respond in a way that severely undermines Sekme and ultimately causes enormous loss to her troops. Sent home to the holding wrested from the desert to recuperate, Sekme hopes to spend some time relaxing with her mother and beloved brother Set, a blind poet gifted with his own special sight.

Instead, she is sent on a special mission to find and capture Merkus, a Tel-mari freedom fighter. What she doesn't realize right away is that she has been snarled in a net of intrigue and betrayal which may well cost Sekme her life. Her beliefs are shaken up as she slowly comes to terms with the idea that the Tel-mari are people worthy of respect and equal treatment, an idea that takes shape and blossoms in her later encounters with Merkus.

Tying the story together is Wepanu, the desert prophet whose communion with the jo, spirit entities indigenous to the planet, results in the prophecy which determines the fates of the Maurheti and the Tel-mari, as well as Sekme, Merkus and all those whose lives touch theirs.

The Divided is much more linear than Waitman's first novel, The Merro Tree, and in some ways is less complex. She expands the idea of the "divided" not only in the clear division between the societies, but also how Sekme becomes divided within herself, how she is divided from her brother, and how the divisions merge into a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Most striking is Sekme's development from a cold killing machine to an individual with a conscience; her change is gradual and authentic. Waitman's language is rich and descriptive without bogging the story down, evoking the sights, sounds and even smells of the scenes.

Unfortunately, Waitman relies a little too much on coincidence and chance to advance her plot, but otherwise, The Divided is a compelling and thought-provoking tale well worth investigating.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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