As the winner of the second WarnerAspect first novel contest coupled with the glowing blurb on the cover from Tim Powers, the initial expectations for Warchild, novel are high. That being said, after reading Karin Lowachee’s first novel, the praise is justified. While Lowachee has utilized the fairly common coming of age theme, she has crafted a story that is her own. The opening chapter immediately grabs you unawares, by placing the reader in the story: “You didn’t see their faces,” as if the reader is a character in the novel, being told what happened to him/her in the past. This immediately makes a strong connection between the writer and reader.
This effective, yet jarring perspective parallels the tumultuous events opening the story as Jos Musey’s home-ship, Mukadori, is attacked. Jos is then orphaned and “taken in” by the pirate Falcone, the captain of the attacking vessel, Genghis Khan. While the time Jos spends with Falcone is relatively short compared to the rest of the novel, this time spent with Falcone, in addition to the loss of his parents, help to shape the mold that Jos will grow into.
After Genghis Khan is attacked, Jos then falls under the wing of Nikolas-dan, a human priest-assassin on the striviirc-na planet of Aaian-na, thrusting him in the middle of the conflict which has pit the humans of the galaxy against the striviirc-na (strits) and their sympathizers (symps). Lowachee charts Jos’ development as a spy-assassin, who slowly becomes an essential part of the galactic war. The interaction between Jos and Nikolas-dan is logically played out, from initial trepidation and distrust on Jos’ part to the eventual trust and respect that builds between the two.
Jos is then deployed by Niko to spy on the military vessel Macedon and learn more about its captain, Cairo Azracon. As Jos becomes a more integral part of the ship and moves through the ranks of the crew, he learns of a deeper connection he has with Azarcon, both Jos and Azarcon have a past with Falcone.
The inner conflict that Jos struggles with as he grows and develops is handled fairly well. Lowachee could have easily let Jos become a cardboard cutout-that of a typical emotional, crybaby teen. Though Jos does have emotions and he sometimes acts on them impulsively, as most teenagers are wont to do, Lowachee is able to flesh out Jos’ character fully and logically, through his actions and how characters around him react. One of the most admirable aspects of the story is how not all the details are thrown in the readers face. Certain events are hinted at early and confirmed later, characters reveal difficult memories without revealing the unseemly details. Whether this was a conscious choice of the author or her editor, it worked very well, strengthening the writer-reader connection.
The skill, storytelling abilities and character development abilities Lowachee displays throughout the novel are greater than that of most first novelists. Throughout this novel, Lowachee demonstrates how early experiences can mold the character and through those experiences and knowledge gained, how a boy becomes a man. While harsh early experiences painting a rough life is a known thing, Lowachee crafts a mold for Jos that sets him apart as a distinct, believable character in his own right. Jos is an admirable character, pushed through life by constant attacks and hands not his own. In spite of this, Jos takes his life in his own hands and begins to chart a path for himself that will hopefully be told in further novels. Despite a somewhat predictable ending, the novel is otherwise expertly told, quick paced, with a satisfying journey traveled by Jos towards story’s end. The inevitable comparison to Orson Scott Card’s landmark Ender’s Game should not dissuade those who have either enjoyed or disliked Ender’s Game. Lowachee has definitely written a novel that stands on its own merits for its uniqueness and her abilities, while still being a novel worthy of the comparison. It can easily be seen why WarnerAspect chose Warchild as their second contest winner.
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2003 Rob Bedford