Karin Lowachee’s saga of Hub politics and intrigue, continues the spiraling themes of estrangement and confrontation compounded by secret motivations where her first novel, Warchild, began.
Ryan Azarcon is a teenager in the midst of a struggle — separating himself from the adults around him: Mom Lau, Austro’s senior public affairs officer; Cairo, his father, a renowned starship captain with the reputation of choosing personal goals over those of the Hub admiralty; and his only consistent male role model and bodyguard, Sid, who complicates matters by sleeping with Ryan’s mother.
Ryan is not your typical protagonist. He’s not the easiest character to empathize with. He comes from a privileged background with money to provide his latest whim and is considered the “Hot #1 Bachelor” on Austro station. Plus, he’s turned to sailing on Silver, the drug of choice among users, and avoiding all that contributes to his unhappiness, including memories of an attack he witnessed on an embassy in Hong Kong. When his father’s actions trigger an assassination attempt on Ryan at a dance club, blowing holes in his protective avoidance, his father, whom he’s only seen thrice before, places him in protective custody — on Cairo’s starship, Macedon. Ryan, resentful, unwillingly navigates the emotional storm between himself and his father, discovering secrets that threaten a precarious peace process between the Hub, the striviirc-na, and the symps, the human sympathizers with the alien strits.
The next step for Ryan is to learn to accept his father, and that proves far more difficult for him than learning to deal with a symp like Jos Musey. It isn’t until another assassination forces their return to Austro and Ryan is kidnapped that he finally matures enough to see what needs to be done — both for his own healing and that of his father.
Lowachee provides a compelling read. She hooked me in the opening pages and kept that need to find out what happens next alive until I reached the end. She doesn’t use traditional chapters to divide her story, but relies on segmenting the tale into three sections. This contributes to the smooth story telling and heightens the reader’s inability to put the book down anywhere in the middle. The character-driven tale in a realistic and fully developed setting with a complex plotline does the rest.
If the author has any weaknesses, I had a hard time spotting them. I grew impatient at one point with a bit of description that pulled me away from the story and wondered how her editor let it slide past, so pacing is the only thing I can vaguely point to, although I couldn’t find that segment when I looked for it. Nevertheless, her character development, world building, and use of conflict on multiple levels (within self, between individuals, and societal), more than make up for any hidden flaws.
While reading her first book, Warchild, will give you a complete background to the political impetus guiding her trilogy, this second book will stand on its own. My recommendation is to read both in order. Lowachee does take risks in both books — with the first, she begins in second person present tense, which can be disconcerting for the reader, then switches; in this one she uses a difficult point-of-view character — and she succeeds with both. It’s plain to see why the judges in Warner Aspect’s First Novel Contest chose her first novel above all other competitors, and, based on that one and Burndive, why they were right to do so. This is a book you can’t afford to miss.
Meanwhile, I’m counting the months until her third book is finished and out in print. I’ve started a support group for my son and a friend of his. There’s always room for a few more members.