Burndive, Karen Lowachee’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed, impressive debut novel Warchild is nearly as good and that, and at the least, a worthy follow-up. What sets Burndive apart from the majority of other sequels is that it can be read independently of Warchild, providing new readers with a good opening spot into the rich universe Lowachee is creating.
In Burndive, we are introduced to Ryan Azercon, son of perhaps the most infamous space captain in the galaxy, Captain Cairo Azercon and Songlian Lau, Senior Public Affairs Officer of the Austro Satellite where Ryan lives. Ryan’s life is under constant public scrutiny and he has even been voted the “#1 Hot Bachelor.” Ryan never sees his father and has barely a relationship with his mother. As the novel opens and Lowachee shines the spotlight on Ryan, the picture she paints is pretty complex. The opening scene shows Ryan purchasing Silver, a drug available only on Earth. He returns to earth with Sid, his Marine bodyguard. Ryan wasn’t necessarily the most likeable character, but Lowachee invested enough into him that reading about him proved quite compelling. Ryan is built up as this incredibly arrogant and angry character, but there is some justification. As a result of being in the public light, Ryan’s life occasionally is threatened, and he lives the life of a reluctant celebrity, so some of his anger and bitterness is understandable.
While Ryan is an arrogant jerk throughout most of the novel, the characters around him prove to be interesting and admirable in their own right. Though Lowachee sets her novel in the reaches of outer space, the core of the novel is defined by small spaces, the relationships between the characters. Sid has been with Ryan nearly his whole life, and in many respects, Sid has been parent, big brother, uncle and friend. His role as parent is further enriched by the fact that Ryan’s father is always out in space. This proves to be a very complex relationship and indeed, at times Sid wants to dole out a beating to Ryan, other times he just wants to chum around with him.
Soon after Ryan’s life is threatened in an attack on his Dojo, his father arrives at the Austro hub to bring Ryan aboard his ship, the Macedon. At this point, the pacing of the narrative picks up considerably as Ryan interacts with more people, including Jos Musey, the protagonist of Warchild. Again, while reading that book would enrich this novel a great deal, Burndive can stand on its own as Lowachee provides ample exposition about Jos to make him a fully realized character in this novel. Jos is on Macedon assisting Captain Azercon in the negotiations with the striviirc-na, a race humanity has been at war with for many, many years. More depth is given to the striviirc-na in Warchild, which is fine because Burndive really is Ryan’s story. The story of how Ryan moved from a life where he felt isolated to a life where is, albeit reluctantly, a greater part of what is going on, a part of what matters.
One thing Lowachee does, which is initially a bit jarring, is shift from the third person narrative voice to the first person narrative, as Ryan begins telling his own story in the last third of the novel. While jarring, the effect was a good one, it indicated a positive change for Ryan, and enriched his character as we got into his head.
My only minor problem with the novel is the pacing. The first third of the novel, dealing with Ryan’s life on Austro was a bit slow. The pacing picked up quite a bit when Ryan’s father entered the story, and from that point forward, the book was very difficult to put down. On the whole, this was a very enjoyable novel and really showcased Lowachee’s growing skills in building believable characters. Not necessary the most likeable characters, but characters who are convincing and move you. I like how Karin Lowachee is approaching this saga, building characters from different angles and unfolding layers of her universe from tangential points of view, which showcases the richness of her future world and space saga. In a couple of months, her next novel in this saga, Cagebird will be published and I am looking forward to seeing what Karin Lowachee is going to do next.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford