Marion Zimmer Bradley
The jacket blurb:
She was Margaret Alton, the daughter of Lew Alton, the Darkovan representative to the Terran Imperial Senate, but she remembered almost nothing about the plantet of her birth, or her early and tumultuous childhood. What fleetimg memories disturbed her sleep were fragments of terror - a strange silver man and a screaming woman with hair that circled her head like a ring of fire.Although a relative latecomer in the Darkover series, this was the first book set in the world of the Bloody Sun that I'd ever read. As such, even though it's billed as being the follow-up to The Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile, I found Exile's Song to be a very good introduction to the world. It lays out who the characters are, and as Margaret finds out about the world, so do we.
Since leaving Darkover as a child, Margaret has lived her life on Thetis. Lew and her stepmother, Dotima, were gone much of the year, working in the Senate, struggling to keep Darkover safe from the all-consuming imperialism of the Terran Federation. She hardly knew her father, a brooding man who, when he returned to Thetis was prone to long bouts of drinking. At these times his normally morose and uncommunicative demeanor would take on an even darker hue...times when he seemed to look at Margaret and see someone else - someone he did not want to remember. As soon as Margaret was of age, she fled her stormy home and took refuge on University. Here Margaret, strangely uncomfortable around her peers found solace in the isolation of study. She excelled in music and was granted the position of assistant to her mentor, renowned musicologist, Dr. Ivor Davidson. This prestigious job took her to many worlds and when she and Professor Davidson were assigned to collect folk songs on Darkover, Margaret was curious and pleased.
But once on Darkover, Margaret's innocent excitement quickly waned. The world of her birth evoked long-buried memories, painful and terrifying, and she soon found herself falling deeper and deeper into a waking dream that threatened to become a nightmare. Margaret began to hear voices in her head - one voice in particular which seemed to confront her at every turn - and she wondered if she were losing her mind.
Beneath the light of the Red Sun, as Margaret slowly unraveled the veiled and mysterious secrets of her heritage, she found herself driven by a destiny more dreadful than any nightmare. For the screaming woman and the silver man were merely markers on a trail - a trail which lead into Margaret's own mind, and towards a trap which had been set for her centuries before her birth...
Darkover is a very interesting world, being a series that's spanned several decades in writing. I know of some titles that date to the 1970's (Darkover Landfall) and I think that some of the books are even earlier than that. And the most recent book in the series just came out this past January: The Hastur Lord. It's a world that's evolved as it was written, with some very neat concepts melding both science fiction and fantasy.
Almost from the first pages of Exile's Song I really got to like Margaret and feel for her - even on this re-read of the book. She's an intelligent, strong character with a very definite set of beliefs and now she's on a planet where everyone else has some very strong ideas about her place and what she should be doing, while expecting Margaret to have all the background knowledge that she doesn't have, all resulting in some very interesting situations and conflicts.
Exile's Song is the first book about Margaret, so while things are resolved by the end of the book, there are some hints of interesting things to come in The Shadow Matrix. Which is interesting all on it's own, even in the implications of the title.