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Cagebird by Karin Lowachee

Cagebird I’ve been putting this review off for a long time. I love ‘Cagebird’ so much, I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s a science fiction novel about Yuri, a boy who had a‐ well, rough would be an understatement‐ childhood, caught in the middle of a war between humans and aliens, his family torn apart. He eventually joins a crew on a spaceship, only to find that instead of merchants, they’re pirates, and the captain wants Yuri to be his protégé. You get all this back story, and, every other section, you also get the present, where Yuri is a young man, imprisoned, trying to win his freedom and do the right thing and escape from what his life has become.

But really, the book isn’t about this. Well, I mean, it is. It is about Yuri being pulled between his friends and his enemies and the police and his crew and how he was raised and what he was trained to do. But really, I think, ‘Cagebird’ is about Yuri facing his past and his present and his future, dealing with what his life has made him, learning to trust, learning not to trust. It’s about emotions and people and the way lives don’t go where you think they’re going to.

‘Cagebird’ is the third book in Karin Lowachee’s… I don’t know if this series has a formal title, now that I think of it. It starts with ‘Warchild’ and then ‘Burndive,’ and ‘Cagebird’ comes next. I think you should probably read them in order. I can’t really say whether you can read ‘Cagebird’ by itself… I didn’t. But this review is just for ‘Cagebird.’ The first two books are great (I have a review up for ‘Warchild.’ The book is incredible) but they aren’t ‘Cagebird.’

The first time I read ‘Cagebird,’ I had the hardest time getting into it. Not because it isn’t written well, not because it doesn’t draw you in right away, but maybe because it’s written too well. It’s so real. Yuri is so messed up and broken and absolutely terrible, but also good and frightened and honest, and it was just truly painful to read about him. It hurt. Even now, this book hurts me every time I read it. It cuts me right to the bone. It makes me ache. After the first time I read it, I think I was in shock. I put it down and I was just done with it. Done.

But then I found myself picking it up, over and over, to read little parts. Thinking about it, thinking about Yuri and Finch and their lives, over and over. I couldn’t stop. This book wiggled its way right into my heart. At this point, I’ve read it so many times, my copy is falling apart, and even though it kills me every time, it makes me feel alive, too. When I want to read a book that I know will be good, the best, I read this. It never fails me.

Why do I love this… It’s brutal. Karin doesn’t hide how difficult Yuri’s life has been. She doesn’t make it sentimental. She’s blunt in her honesty. She doesn’t need to beat anything into you, shove anything done your throat, with her writing, because Yuri tells his story exactly as it is, stripped down, bare, raw, and you get it. You can’t not. There’s nothing flowery about this book. It’s all steel and dark space and red blood and deep blue bruises, and it never needs to deviate from that because that is exactly what it needs to be. There are moments when maybe you want things to go a certain way, want someone to say something, but it doesn’t happen. Karin Lowachee knows that what needs to be written, what needs to happen, is not always what people are looking for. She doesn’t compromise on this. It’s difficult to read, sometimes, because things don’t go right or things that you think need to be said aren’t. But it’s honest and real. It’s truthful. It’s like nothing else.

When I think about this book, I can see every setting, clearly; I can see Yuri’s face and the black shirt he wears, and the dirt of his home as a child, and the grime of the spaceports, and the sterility of the ships… Everything.

A few weeks ago, an author asked for people to name their favorite characters. As much time as I’d spent thinking about what my favorite books were, I’d never thought about favorite characters. I said Yuri, and I think that holds. He’s so alive. I know who he is. He’s so complex and just so very present in the book, like he’s a real person. He frightens me and he makes me extremely uncomfortable, but at the same time, I love him.

As far as favorite books go… I don’t have a hard time putting this in my top three. Ever. When I first read this, I had no idea how important it would become to me. I didn’t know how much it would mean. But it means a lot. When I think about this book now, I think about it like it’s a part of me. It’s not only that it’s that beautiful, or that well‐written, but that it’s that important. It changed how I think about books and how I think about the science fiction genre and how I think about writing and how I think about people. But I love it, too, for making me feel everything it makes me feel.   -SEL

More articles on books by Karin Lowachee: Warchild

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