Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wish Goodreads had half-star ratings. This definitely ends up between a 3 and 4 for me. Parts of it I really liked, but I had some reservations as well.
This is the story of Zara Cole, a rebellious teenage girl who inadvertently ends up on a trip across the galaxy, aboard a sentient living spaceship named Nadim. (There's a picture of Nadim as the book begins, which doesn't match how I see him at all. He's basically shown as a space whale, but from the book's descriptions I think of him as more of a manta ray.) This takes place a little more than a hundred years from now, when the sapient ships known as the Leviathan have basically saved humanity, granting them the technology to cure climate change and many other of society's ills. In return they ask for a hundred Honors each year, fifty sets of young men and women to travel aboard the Leviathan to various star systems. Most Honors return to Earth after their year, but a few are selected by the Elder Leviathan to go on the Journey, an extended voyage about which little is known.
Zara is shocked to be chosen, and of course there is far more here than meets the eye. A good portion of the book is setup, revealing her character and her struggles on Earth. Some readers may think this is dragging, but it turns out to be necessary backstory and character development. On Earth, Zara was a thief and a bit of a grifter, a smart and determined scrapper, living on the fringes of society, refusing to conform. This becomes extremely important later on, and indeed is why she was chosen. I won't reveal anything further because of spoilers, but let's just say the Leviathan chose well.
The characters are the highlight of this book. Zara and Beatriz, Nadim's Honors, are well-drawn, layered people. I liked Nadim's voice, but I wish the author had made him a bit more alien--sometimes he comes across as a whiny teenage boy (which I suppose he is). This book is pretty much his coming-of-age story. And may I say how refreshing it is that there is no romance? (At least between any of the human characters, although there's a sort of intellectual romantic connection between Zara and Nadim.) Both Zara and Beatriz have their own goals and agency, and once the story starts crackling romance is the furthest thing from their minds.
The reservations I have about this book are the science. Yes, I can accept the sentient space whale/ manta ray. However, I guess being a fan of The Expanse has spoiled me for any SF that doesn't recognize space as being a BIG place, and the distance between planets requiring weeks and months of travel. This book, unfortunately, depicts going to Mars as a quick trip down the block, and traveling from our solar system as a moderate jaunt on the freeway. Sorry, it doesn't work like that. If the Leviathans can actually slip past the speed of light, it seems to me this should be written as a far bigger deal, and maybe a price to be paid for doing so as well. Your mileage may vary, of course. This wasn't a dealbreaker for me because I liked the characters so much, but it did jolt me out of the story a bit.
However, when the action kicked in, I couldn't put the book down. There were some truly memorable battle scenes, and the suspense wound the last half of the book tighter than a spring. The world has been expanded and the stakes have been raised, and I'm looking forward to the next book.
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