Warchild by Karin Lowachee is like a meandering Ender’s Game meets book five Harry Potter–you remember, the one where he was really angry and agonized, all the time.
This review contains spoilers for the story.
Our protagonist, Joslyn Musey, is eight years old when his parent are killed and his ship destroyed by pirates. The pirate-in-chief (and main antagonist), Falcone, then takes him under his very creepy wing. It only lasts a year, but this is how the story starts–recounting the death of Jos’s homeship, and his year as a captive with this predator.
Thus begins his ten year journey to tracking down the pirate who killed his family and destroyed his home-ship.
The middle of the story drags on. Jos is rescued by the Nikolas S’tilian, aka the Warboy, and apprentices with him, learning the assassin trade. There’s a long period–maybe a hundred pages–about this. We learn about the alien culture (which is less alien-esque and more Asian rip-off in space). More importantly, we develop an insight for the much maligned aliens and their sympathizers, which is crucial for the rest of the book.
After cementing himself as a father figure to Jos, Nikolas then asks him to work as a double agent for the alien cause by enlisting on a human military ship. It’s a dangerous and miserable position to be in. It’s made the worse because of the expectations put on Jos despite his low ranking, and the way the job exacerbates his lack of place in the world.
I can’t decide if this is a genius move by Nikolas or the stupidest one possible. Jos is so clearly screwed up, so clearly in need of a stable and loving home. It’s cruel to do this. But so is war. And Jos’s work directly leads to a possible peace treaty. So, good job, Nikolas? I’m not sure you should be thanked for this.
An important note: Sexual predation is a theme through this book. It seemed like every pirate Jos encountered was interested in molesting small children. And even when he escapes the pirate ship, every adult seems suspect. The story is told in first person, so it could be a case of unreliable narration, in which Jos’s perception of the world seeps through. But his fears aren’t unrealistic, just widespread and unrelenting. This ceaseless suspicion did wear on me as a reader, though.
“An angsty teen solves a war between humans and aliens by killing a pedophile.”#ExplainABookPlotBadly
Indeed, Jos himself was the most frustrating part of this read. I found myself wanting to yell at him to give up on Nikolas and leave it all behind–just strike out and start his own life. I wasn’t convinced that Nikolas had done enough to warrant the hell that Jos put himself through.
But in all, it was a good story, though I think Lowachee could have cut a hundred pages without losing anything. So if you’re in the mood for something that moves at a moderate pace and explores the intricacies of a young man with his feet caught between two worlds, take a look.