Exhausted from a two-year rescue mission in space, the crew of the starship Phoenix return home to find disaster: civil war has broken out, the powerful Western Association has been overthrown, and Tabini-aiji, its forceful leader, is missing. In a desperate move, paidhi Bren Cameron and Tabini's grandmother Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, along with with Cajeiri, Tabini's eight-year-old heir, make planetfall and succeed in reaching the mainland. The brilliant and forceful Ilisidi seeks refuge at the estate of an old ally, and Tabini-aiji arrives at the door.
As word of Tabini's whereabouts circulates, clans allied with Tabini descend upon the estate, providing a huge civilian presence that everyone involved hopes will deter impending attacks by the usurpers. But as more and more supporting clans arrive, Bren finds himself increasingly isolated, and it becomes clear that both his extremely important report of alien contact in space, and even his life, rest on the shoulders of only two allies: Ilisidi and Cajeiri.
Can one elderly ateva and and eight-year-old boy—himself a prime target for assassination—protect Bren, a lone human involved in a civil war that most atevi believe he caused?
The long-running Foreigner series can also be enjoyed by more casual genre readers in sub-trilogy installments. Pretender is the 8th Foreigner novel. It is also the 2nd book in the third subtrilogy.