Katharine Kerr's SF novel Snare is an enjoyable, intelligent adventure set on a long-colonised planet whose history, ecology and communities are full of puzzling contradictions. Tantalising answers emerge but lead to greater mysteries. One society is Islamic, not the Islam we know but a splinter cult changed by the teachings of the Second and Third Prophets, softened by 800 years of adaptation to this world. Believers are sympathetically treated but their ruler the Great Khan is wrecking the economy with greed and bloodthirsty paranoia.
So regime change is indicated--there are secret plans to lure a forgotten Khan heir out of exile. This means long travel over grasslands dominated by horse-riding tribes whose female shamans practise magic--a magic which, underpinned by ancient technology and bioengineering, really works. One tribe is infiltrated by a member of the Khan's dread secret police the Chosen, who have strange, shameful talents of their own. Hazards en route include the ChaMeech, feared lizard-folk who are this world's original natives, with ecological and political crises of their own. Above circle light-points in the sky known as the Riders--certain forms of magical location and communication function only after the Riders have risen and before they set. One fanatical "sorcerer" wants to get back up there again, into orbit.
Who is the voice in the shaman's crystal, calling herself Water Woman? How is it that the sorcerer is remembered by some as greyly middle-aged, seen by others as young? What's the significance of countless tribal taboos or Banes, such as the rule against disturbing the glistening "spirit pearls" found in rivers? Are the splendid legends of the human First Settlers all lies, invented for excellent reasons which may no longer apply?
Kerr's characters are believable and likeable--they clash, change and grow as layers of mystery are peeled away. All ends satisfyingly. --David Langford [via]