Cloud's Rider is the successor to her Rider at the Gate, which I reviewed last year. This book was far more psychological than the previous, delving deeply into the reactions of all the characters to the dark telepathic sendings of the rogue nighthorse stalking the village.'s
In Rider, Danny Fisher teams up with Cloud, one of the telepathic Nighthorses on Finisterre, where a small human outpost seems to have been abandoned on a remote hostile planet. The humans who remain cloistered in the villages try to hide from the power of the ambient telepathy of the native fauna, and as a result are unable to exploit the resources of the world. The riders have allied with the nighthorses, which enables them to travel more freely, which makes them a crucial lifeline connecting the remote villages. But there's a lot the humans don't know about the planet.
In Rider, we see that nighthorses can sometimes go rogue (in that case because its rider died in an accident) with disastrous consequences for an entire village. In the end, Danny Fisher agrees to escort the survivors, the three Goss children, Carlos, Randy, and Brionne. Brionne was at the center of the tragedy, having been the focus of the rogue's attention, but at the divide between the two books, she is in a coma.
Cloud's Rider starts out with the quartet struggling up a mountain road in a blinding snowstorm. They end up walking for a couple of days, dragging Brionne behind them on an improvised travois. They had intended to stop halfway up the mountain at a permanent rider's shelter with provisions that ought to be enough to sustain them for quite a while, but the snowstorm causes them to miss the shelter and end up in Evergreen village--not large enough to stand up to the sendings of the rogue that seems to have followed them up the mountain.
The bulk of the story takes place in Evergreen, where the politics is intense among the villagers, the miners, the preacher, and the doctor who adopts Brionne. Some of the villagers quickly recognize that the now abandoned village at the foot of the hill represents a major source of wealth for whoever can claim it when spring brings an end to the unrelenting winter blizzards.
But the focus is on how Danny, Carlos, Randy, and Brionne react to their circumstances and the malevolent presence in the telepathic ambient. As villagers, Carlos and Randy would normally be expected to be oblivious to the rogue's sendings, but they were in Tarmin when everything came crashing down and took a long trek in the presence of Cloud, so they know it's all real. Randy is drawn to the nighthorses and envies the romance of the riders' way of life. Carlos just wants to get back to Tarmin and make use of his blacksmithing skills. Brionne's outlook has been warped by the sendings of the rogue, and her delusions and paranoia are affecting the villagers around her.
Once again, Cherryh has done a masterful job of developing characters whose differences and similarities are highlighted by the juxtaposition with alien thoughts and alien approaches that are perfectly consistent and highly intriguing. I very much enjoyed this story sequence.