***Dave Hill's Reviews > Masks of the Outcasts

Masks of the Outcasts by Andre Norton
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Dec 14, 11

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Read in May, 2008

(Original Review: http://hill-kleerup.org/blog/2008/05/...)

Andre (Alice Marie) Norton was one of my SF/Fantasy staples growing up, and I still reread some of her books. This is a new Baen reissuing of two of her novels: Catseye (1961) and Night of Masks (1964). Alas, neither novel is one of Norton’s finest.

Overall: Fair
Story: Fair
Re-Readability: Fair
Characters: Fair

As with most of these Baen pair-ups, there’s a theme here, in this case a common setting. Both novels start on the planet Korwar, a rich resort world on the outskirts of which lies the Dipple, a bitter refugee camp from worlds destroyed or occupied by a recent interplanetary war. Protagonists in both stories start their tales in the Dipple.

While there are references in common with most of Norton’s shared universe (the Thieves Guild, stunners, blasters, etc.), if it’s meant to be so, it’s early on in that continuity, when Terra was still known and alien races like the Zacathans were not yet encountered.

Catseye focuses on Troy Horan, exile of a “ranch/plains rider” sort of world. He gets an opportunity to work in an exotic pet store, a temporary escape from the Dipple. But the animals being imported there from Terra are not what they seem, and Horan’s unexpected abilities set him in the middle of a power struggle between various factions on Korwar.

This is pretty standard Norton YA fare — intelligent and telepathic animals, heritage of lost worlds, a down-on-his-luck exile making his own way in the world and establishing an identity that defies both his enemies and those would would use him. The book plays out with few surprises, but is entertaining enough.

Night of Masks is far less successful. Nik Kolherne is another Dipple refugee, a rootless orphan, with a hideously disfigured face. He’s offered a job — and a new face — by the Thieves Guild, but soon discovers the mission is (of course) more than he expected, and he’s soon caught in factional fighting as well as pursued by the Patrol, trapped on the nightmare planet of Dis, uncertain who to trust, or who can trust him.

While Nik is like most Norton protagonists — starting from a serious deficit position — he is pretty unsympathetic, battered about by fate and motivated by fear and uncertainty. Only very, very late in the game does he start to redeem himself, but it comes so late and happens so fast that it defies plausibility. While the world of Dis is nicely painted, it holds a lot in common with other “nighmare / humid / wasted world, populate by degenerate / slimy / deadly / psychic creatures who lurk amongst mysterious ruins” locales that are a Norton standard.

NoM is, due to its protagonist, the most disappointing of the books (I kept rooting for greater danger to Nik, just so that he’d either step up or get killed). Catseye is better, but the various plot elements are too cliché especially for Norton, for it to be anything more than pedestrian fare.
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