C. J. Cherryh
Start of the third Foreigner trilogy. The story returns to the atevi, to find them in a civil war. I have a mixed response to this. On the one hand this plot development feels like a bit of a detour, the sort of thing that doesn't actually imperil human-atevi relationships but creates temporary conflict to allow a new level of prosperity. On the other hand it does work as a good followup to the awkward liens of the future history, that everything isn't always in a straight progression. As well, the notion that this crisis might have developed because of Bren's pushing human values onto an alien society is welcomed, it serves as a good corrective for the personal level as well as the meta one of reading too much conventionality into aliens. And on a thematic level an atevi civil war works well with the ongoing challenge of understanding, balancing intrigue and culture, and switching power to the next generation.
On a direct reading level, though, the book dragged a little. It's still complex and engaging stuff, but it wasn't nearly as good as Explorer and featured not enough actually happening. A prohibitive part of the book was Bren hearing about what had happened recently on the planet, and there wasn't enough emphasis on his decisions, movements and interactions. It's a complex setting and story that's unfolding, but this novel felt like an underwhelming segment in the larger block.
Worse than: Explorer by C. J. Cherryh
Better than: Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh