As humans explored the worlds, often new and different races were discovered. During one of those explorations they discovered the Maungs, who have the ability to wipe out the entire human race. It is here that they also meet the R’il’nai, a race of beings with powers and abilities that help to save them from extinction. As the years move on humans have hybridized with the R’il’nai and have continued their spread across the galaxy.
In Homecoming, we meet the product of this hybridization and one of the last full R’il’nai alive, one of the few not wiped out by a disease that was deadly to their kind. Slavery is still the way of the world, and while its ruling council does not necessarily condone it, many members themselves have slaves as well.
Snowy is a child born into slavery, but he has learned the value of what is wanted. While some of his masters were cruel and callus, he has perfected a form of dance that makes him much more valuable. He has also collected a small group of friends, and they dance together. This has made them popular and when they are sold, it is as a group because their beauty comes as a group in the form of the dance. But that is only a part of what is expected of them; they lead a hard and gritty life, abused and tormented by many of their masters. It is during one of the dances that they attract the attention of one of Derik, one of the R’il’noid, one of the hybrid of the two races that carry the characteristics and abilities of the R’il’nai side of the match. Derik is long lived and very lonely; he is entranced by Snowy and his group — and quite attracted to Snowy himself. When he purchases them, little does he realize that life as he knows it is about to change.
Snowy has been hiding something of his own for so long that it was no longer a thought. He can heal himself and others with his mind. He can block probes of his own, but he is beginning to show even more traits. His mother, before she was sold away warned him to keep his abilities secret, or he would be killed as a rogue. He had never seen her again, but he kept to her warning always. How would he get by in world where secrets were easily discernable? When he comes down with a severe form of Kharfun syndrome, he is immediately put in the spotlight. This anomaly only strikes those of R’ilnai or R’il’noid ancenstry, so now the immediate concern is, who is he?
Sue Ann Bowling has put together an amazing world, well written and believable. She has come up with a group of characters, each unique and either eminently likable, or on the other end of the spectrum, rather hateful. In Homecoming she highlights the frailties and strengths of a race that has no equal, and yet with all their intelligence and abilities they are near extinction. Set as protectors of humans, they themselves are almost annihilated by a disease that has very little impact on the human population.
Because of their abilities some of the hybrids have allowed slavery, and as in most other cultures it becomes a brutal and unending process of life for those who are owned. The master is all, and the slave is considered a lower life form. While many are trying to change the process and outlaw slavery, there are those that resist. Many, like Snowy, have found ways to make themselves worth more, in order to protect themselves and their friends.
Homecoming is a wonderful blend of both old and new, putting together humans and an alien race, melding them together in ways that form a new hybrid, with characteristics of both. And yet the slavery and some of the attitudes reflect a time of years past and seem to go against the basic reason for their connection, that of protecting the race, building an interesting conflict. The characters are both unique and quite interesting. The storyline within the school system is spot on and very reminiscent of what really happens in schools the world over. This is a quick paced and very interesting story; the characters are quite memorable.
If you like science fiction, this is an amazing read. The story twists and turns, with action and adventure, and the characters step right off the page. I would think a book club or reading group would find this an interesting and attractive reading addition for their members.