The Family Tree

Sheri S. Tepper

Avon Books. $23.00
(paper $6.99)

In a future so near as to be tomorrow, forests suddenly and aggressively begin to reclaim our cities. Most people are alarmed, but Dora Henry finds it appealing. Dora is a police detective assigned to the murder of a scientist who had been researching animal genetics. As she works on the case, she finds hints of a connection between the murder and the rampant, new forests, and, for some reason, her recently estranged husband.

In a long distant future, the story-telling slave Nassif accompanies a sultan's son on a pilgrimage to St. Weel. In typical quest fashion, they gather numerous companions as they go: the eunuch Soaz, Prince Izakar of Palmia, the Countess of Estafan (and her secretary, and her cook), Lucy Lowe and her brothers Mince and Burrow, and others. The land is restless, the trees are restless, but no one quite knows why. To boot, Izakar has a Prophecy to fulfill, if anyone can ever figure it out. Then they reach St. Weel, where an even more enigmatic task awaits.

Sheri Tepper's newest novel displays her usual strengths and weaknesses: a well-planned, intriguing story; thinking, reasoning characters, both women and men; delightful surprises; as well as a lot of humor and the occasional bad pun. Tepper's problem is that she sometimes loses control of significant plot lines. The forests which dominated Dora's part of the story are suddenly unimportant by the end of the book; a similar flaw devastated Shadow's End, but The Family Tree, fortunately, survives.

Like Beauty and Shadow' End before it, The Family Tree is a cautionary tale about the consequences of species extinction and other careless brutalities we do to the earth. As usual, Tepper allows us a saving grace, a chance for atonement for the damage we have done. This is the sad thing about Tepper's fantasies, and probably where her stories are most truly fantasy: Even when she allows us, the human race, to save ourselves from our own worst mistakes and vices, she still must resort to an outside (and fantastic) influence to act as catalyst to get us started. Because really and truly, we're going to have to do it on our own.


This review copyright 1997 by Wendy Morris 

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