Embustero is the follow up to Cleveland's Pale Boundaries, which I reviewed here. As there may be people who haven't read the first book, I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum in this review.
Terson Reilly leaves Nivia via his reluctant rescuers. As he's a potential witness to their illicit activities, he's given a choice to join the crew or spend his time in the brig until they can drop him off someplace safe. He ultimately decides that a working passage is better than going stir crazy in the brig, but he soon finds that fitting in on the ship, the Embustero, isn't much better than Nivia.
Meanwhile, the situation on Nivia has come to a boiling point for Halsor Tennisor. He's given the order by his mother, the head of the crime syndicate, to shut down the Family's operation and eliminate the Minzoku—the original settlers of Nivia who have been in hiding on a continent-sized wilderness preserve—including his mistress, Dayuki. But Tennisor isn't the only person in the operation to have cross-cultural ties. Love drives another to protect his wives from the oncoming slaughter.
The two plots are kept separate for most of the book, which is fine as at this stage of the game as forcing them together would've been too much. When it does happen, it serves as a reminder how past misunderstandings can snowball into tragedy.
Cleveland remains true to his characters' realism. Terson maintains his loner identity and it takes him many chapters before he lets his guard down enough to let others in. It isn't easy for him as there are others who refuse to cut him any slack. For every progressive step he makes, someone pushes him back. And Halsor remains the villain that you almost root for, until he gets Terson in his sights.
While Terson is aboard the Embustero, Cleveland lets us know that life aboard spaceships isn't nifty like it is on Star Trek. Life as a trader is hard work. Cleveland gives us all the nitty gritty on balancing the financials, dealing with pirates, maintaining discipline among the crew, and keeping the ship functioning. This is the sort of thing that will turn off space fantasy readers, but hard sci-fi fans will appreciate the honest approach.
As for the technicals, the book is well-edited. There are only a handful of typos, scattered throughout the book. The dialogue is spot on and seamlessly blends with the exposition. Cleveland's writing style displays a maturity typically only seen in seasoned veterans.
As with Pale Boundaries, the overall story (that is: Terson vs. Halsor) ends unfinished, but this time the current issues have been resolved. Being more familiar with Cleveland's writing style, I recognized the peaks in the two plots. While there is a rather lengthy denouement, with the conclusion of Embustero the reader feels that they've come to the definitive end of a chapter in the overall saga. But it's easy to see that Cleveland has more in store for both Terson and Halsor.
Scott Cleveland has crafted another wonderful story with plots full of scheming characters to keep readers engrossed from start to finish. His characters, whether good or bad, are all real human beings with the strengths and vulnerabilities that come with the territory. It's a cynical universe where even good people assume the worst of others and act accordingly. Cleveland deftly shows how nothing good comes of it.
If you enjoyed Pale Boundaries you'll definitely want to pick up Embustero. The GoodReads page lists where you can find it.