Louise Marley,
The Child Goddess
(Ace, 2004)

Isabel Burke, Mother of the Priestly Order of Mary Magdalene, has been summoned from Italy to Seattle to act in her professional capacity as medical anthropologist. She is also to assume guardianship of a child found on the alien planet Virimund. Although the Sikassa originated on Earth, they had been lost for three centuries, until the ExtraSolar Corp. found their descendants on Virimund. After an "incident" that left one ExtraSolar worker and one Sikassa child dead, the surviving child was brought to Earth, against all rules of first-contact protocol.

Isabel's heart goes out to the child Oa, who continually insists that she is not a "person," nor can Isabel convince her otherwise, though she makes great strides with the child in other areas. There is a mystery behind Oa's presence on Earth; Isabel, whose Order are also known as Enquirers, means to get to the bottom of it, before Oa can be hurt again or before any more people die.

The Child Goddess is an intriguing story, set in Earth's future. The science fiction elements of the story take a back seat to the anthropological mystery presented by Oa and her people. There are other children on Virimund, but no one has yet seen any adults. This is a story of first contact gone awry and the delicacy required to patch up relations. But ExtraSolar is not interested in delicacy, for there is something about the children that they want and feel they have the right to take.

Marley's characters are human, with human frailties, fears and foibles. Both Mother Burke and Oa are viewpoint characters and Marley handles the alien child's viewpoint just as deftly as Earthborn Isabel's.

I wish I had started The Child Goddess on a Saturday, so that I could have spent all day reading it, but alas, I read it during the week, when I was constantly interrupted by such mundane things as work.

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 30 October 2004

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