Ok. This will actually be the third review I’ve written for ‘Warchild,’ by Karin Lowachee. I took two down, and never mind all the editing that the last incarnation went through before I pulled it. It’s not that I didn’t like the reviews. They just didn’t say what I wanted them to about the book. And I’m not really sure why. I wrote a review for the third book in this series of pretty‐much‐stand‐alone novels, ‘Cagebird,’ and I always assumed that would be the harder review to write because ‘Cagebird’ is probably in my top three books of all time. But nope. ‘Warchild’ is the one that gives me trouble.
So let’s try this again.
‘Warchild’ is about Jos, a young boy who starts out living on his parents’ merchant ship. Space ship, because this is a science fiction book. Anyway. At the very beginning of the book, his parents’ ship is attacked, and Jos is taken by a space pirate who is just very, very bad. But he escapes and he’s taken in by Nico, a man who is working for the alien race that humanity has been having such a very hard time with. And Nico ends up raising Jos, with all the teachings of the aliens as his guidelines, so that Jos is basically a human product of a non‐human upbringing.
This was one of those books that called to me. That doesn’t happen very often, and it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s like I had to get it and read it. I simply couldn’t not. And then, it probably should have been a lot harder for me to get into this book, because the first 40 or so pages are in second person, which is just… generally a very, very uncomfortable way to read. But here, it works. And before you know it, you’re hooked, completely, and you just want to read about Jos and everything that he’s experiencing.
I think what I love the most about Karin Lowachee’s writing is that she just writes what needs to be written. I mention this in my ‘Cagebird’ review… It’s like, she’s not going to coddle the characters or the reader. Sometimes things aren’t what you expect, relationships, situations, emotions, but they’re always very honest and believable and right, no matter how uncomfortable or undesirable.
Her characters are just always so… real. And unique. Jos and Nico and the other people Jos encounters in ‘Warchild’ are no exception. Jos was just someone that I felt I knew very deeply. And his experiences with the aliens and with Nico, and then, later, his new interactions with humans, were so well thought out and beautiful and frightening and rich. It’s like you’re there, like you’re feeling everything right there with him.
And I loved the aliens, their culture. Is it a bit reminiscent of Japanese culture? Yup. Do I mind? Absolutely not. I love Japanese culture, and to see it transformed here into something new and fresh and different, while retaining the aesthetics of Japanese art and style, the honor of their warriors, was just fantastic.
(Aesthetics is a hard word to spell, huh?)
I’m kind of crazy about books that explore what it means to be alive, what it means to be, maybe not human, but humane, to relate to others, to live and love and hate, and this book just delves right into the heart of all of these ideas. It never tears them apart, never offers concrete answers, just explores, from so many angles, and I was thrilled with it.
And I was thrilled with the relationships between the characters. Jos and Nico were just the most interesting people. The way Jos is raised by Nico, respects him as a man and a teacher and maybe kind of like a brother, but then must forge his own way, separate from Nico, learn things that Nico can never teach him, was difficult and gorgeous and raw and honest.
It’s just an all around gorgeous book, intriguing in the way the plot explores the conflict in space between the humans and aliens, but even more fascinating and wonderful in the individual bonds that are made and broken and torn apart between the characters.
Before I read ‘Warchild,’ I’d been a bit of a fringe science fiction fan, but I was pretty firmly entrenched on the fantasy side of things. Most of the science fiction I’d read was kids’ stuff, actually. It just seemed like it was too hard to walk the fine line between sappy space operas and hard science fiction that tends to be a little too cold for my taste. And to be fair, I hadn’t really been looking. But ‘Warchild’ changed the way I looked at science fiction as a whole. After I read it, I wanted to read all the science fiction, all the time, for a while. The thing about this book, and the books that follow it in the series, is that they’re accessible to anyone. Even if you’re not a big sci‐fi reader, I think anyone could get into these. The science is well defined but never bogs down the story, and the heart of the book is always the characters.
So I highly recommend it. And I recommend you read the rest of the books in the series, which, so far, include ‘Burndive’ and ‘Cagebird.’ They’re both great, but like I mentioned earlier, ‘Cagebird’ holds a pretty special space for me.
And I like this review much better than the last one I had up on the book. We’ll see how long it lasts before I go through an editing spree.
More articles on books by Karin Lowachee: Cagebird