Karin Lowachee,
(Warner Aspect, 2002)

Karin Lowachee's Warchild is the most recent winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel contest, and if it weren't for that, I would never have known it was a first novel. Warchild is proof that Lowachee is a born storyteller.

Jos Musey is 8 years old when the merchant ship on which he lives is attacked by pirates. All the adults, including his parents, are killed, and the pirate captain, Falcone, sells the remaining children into slavery. Jos is the exception; Falcone keeps him for himself. After a year on the pirate ship, Jos finds himself among the "strits," the aliens with whom EarthHub is engaged in a war.

In his time with the "strits" -- or, more properly, striviirc-na or strivs -- and the human sympathizers who live and work among them, Jos gets a different perspective on the war and on the propaganda used to promote fear and anger against the aliens. He trains to become a member of the assassin-priest caste, and when his training is complete, he is sent back into the human world as a spy, signing on with a deep space ship, Macedon. There his past begins to catch up with him as he realizes that what he really needs is to find his place in the world.

Lowachee combines a number of themes into her work: survivor guilt, survival of abuse, vengeance and prejudice. Jos is a complex and sensitive character with whom the reader can empathize, and Lowachee conveys his emotions and anguish without resorting to melodrama. The other main characters with whom Jos interacts are also well-developed and credible, and the characters and tightly constructed plot work together to drive the story.

Space battles and high technology abound, but Warchild rises above the typical space opera/military science-fiction novel because it tells a compelling story. Like many science-fiction writers, such as Ursula Le Guin and including Sheri Tepper, Lois MacMaster Bujold and Julie E. Czerneda, Lowachee concentrates on the essence of the tale first, incorporating the gadgetry into the story rather than the other way around.

Warchild is at once an exciting and contemplative read and a masterful debut for Karin Lowachee.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 21 September 2002

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