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Warchild
by Karin Lowachee
(Warner, April 2002)


Reviewed by Eric Layman

Warner Aspect, a Warner Books subsidiary, sponsors worldwide competitions for the best debut science-fiction novels. From over 1,000 entries in its second competition, Warner Aspect selected Warchild. [The competition's first winner, Nalo Hopkinson, has since become one of the most acclaimed authors of her generation.]

This is the story of a boy growing up during a protracted interstellar war. It's comparable in some ways to novels like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, but Lowachee interweaves the themes of coming of age and conflicting loyalties in an original way.

For eight-year-old Jos Musey, who has seldom visited a space station and never a planet, the merchant ship Mukudori is a homeworld with mores of its own. As interstellar voyages are long, difficult and dangerous, starships have evolved unique, self-sufficient cultures.

Then the pirate Falcone destroys Mukudori, slaughters the adults and enslaves the children. He shows a sinister interest in Jos, training him as a kind of pet. A resilient child, Jos learns as much as he can from Falcone. Jos escapes during a stopover at a station, only to fall into the hands of "symps": humans allied with Earth's alien enemies, the strits.

Jos is taken to the alien homeworld under the care of Niko, a symp with high status among the strits. Soon Jos learns the aliens' true name, and discovers that Earth propaganda has not told the truth about them. But although Niko sometimes acts like a friend, Jos is unsure whether Niko values him for his own sake or just wants to use him to infiltrate the human military.

Niko trains Jos to be a master warrior and spy. But no training can arm Jos against the doubts and dangers he faces in a war where betrayal is rife. And while Jos agonizes about how others see him, he must learn to see his own true worth to himself.

This book has flaws. The writing sometimes stumbles, and the pace lags during Jos's time on the strit homeworld. Even so, it is a powerful story. And writing the first, most traumatic section of the novel in the second person shows Lowachee as not only an effective storyteller but a promising stylist.

Send comments to elayman@idirect.com.


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