Rating: LOVED (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
I wish two things right now: I had some higher rating than 'LOVED' (I've only used the all caps version of 'loved' once before), and that I had been able to write this review after I finished the book instead of a week and two books later.
This book was AMAZING. A week and two books later, it's still in my head stronger than any other book has ever been before. If I had paid an author to write a book perfect for me, this book would have surpassed even that.
Unless you hate dark books or books about child abuse (all forms of abuse, including sexual), I highly recommend that you do not click the below links. Don't spoil yourself. Go out and buy this book, then read it for yourself.
Brief overview: Set in space, pirates attack an eight year old boy's homeship. All the adults are killed, the kids are taken as slaves by the pirates to use in their crew or sell to other crews. The pirate captain keeps one boy to train. The book follows what happens to that boy over many years. It's chilling. Realistic. Dark as hell.
The book starts in second person POV, which is usually something I hate, but it worked here. It fit Jos (the captive boy's) mental state -- it put more distance on the slaughter of his family and his time as the pirate captain's captive. The captain groomed Jos in all ways, including sexually. The threat of sexual assault was never far through much of the story.
As good as that section was for me, the story gets even better from there. There's a war going on in the universe, humans against an alien race, and some humans side with the aliens instead of their own people (for well-explained and perfectly believable reasons). Niko, one of those sympathizers, "rescues" (sort of) Jos from the pirate captain and takes him to the alien homeworld.
While the homeworld and culture were obviously and strongly based on the Japanese culture, it didn't bother me one bit -- I loved every detail of it. I loved the aliens and the human sympathizers both. I loved everything about the worldbuilding.
And the story really, really, REALLY gets good from there, as Niko tries to help Jos heal. He also trains him as a spy and an assassin.
The Jos/Niko relationship was just amazing. (And I mean 'relationship' only as that, not implying anything sexual, just the relationship between two people.) Jos, still eight years old, has to learn the alien language and culture to try to fit in there, all the while coping with what happened to his homeship and his time on the pirate ship.
Then the book takes a harder turn. (Ha, "harder than everything that came before?!" Yep.) Niko has to send Jos away, to have Jos spy on the humans. Jos (and the reader) never knows who can be trusted -- does Niko really care about him? Or was he just using the boy, as the pirate captain had, to make a perfect spy for the aliens?
I hated the ending. Was it fitting? Yeah. Was it an ending I'd usually like? Hell yeah. But an open ending, an unhappy ending, was exactly what I did NOT want in this story. I needed to know things were going to turn out okay for Jos. He deserved that, dammit! But the ending as written made more sense than what I personally wanted...
Seriously, if you listen to any recommendation of mine, listen to this one. Unless you don't like dark books or stories where kids get abused, get this book.
I don't usually link to other reviews, but I worry I didn't do Warchild justice, so here's a better written one than mine.
Burndive by Karin Lowachee
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Not this book's fault, but I went into this series thinking it was going to be about the two main characters from the first book. It's not. Every book in this series is about different characters and what they see/do/think/feel during the war. This book was about the son of the captain of one of the humans' deepspace battleships.
Because I loved the first book so deeply, and I thought this book was continuing it, I was so disappointed to find out it was about different characters. Also, I strongly disliked (to the point of hating) the main character of this one, so I had a harder time enjoying it.
Ryan Azarcon is a spoiled rich kid. A celebrity. His father is a famous captain, his mother is some powerful government person. He's rich. He's drop-dead beautiful. He's bored. He acts out a lot. He does drugs.
Some bad things happen to him (a terrorist bombing kills one of his family members) and he nearly has a breakdown. After what happened to Jos in the first book, I had to work hard to not roll my eyes that Ryan was reacting so poorly to something much more minor. Something bad? Yeah, sure. But Jos spent many years with no one to trust, kept as a slave, questionably used by the only person he could trust, lost his whole family, and was abandoned multiple times. And Jos handled it much much better. Is it fair to compare the two? Probably not, but I couldn't help doing it anyway.
Ryan ends up on his father's ship, where luckily we get glimpses of some of the characters from the first book. Even Jos and Niko made a (WAY TOO BRIEF) appearance.
I feel bad, but I can't even remember the plot beyond Ryan getting on his father's ship. All I recall was how disappointed I was in this book. I did read it all, any I did enjoy parts of it (everything after Ryan getting on the ship, since then we got to see characters we knew), I just don't remember it now.
Like Gaslight Dogs by the same author, the title of this book was very odd. Burndive is the world's version for hacking, and there was next to no hacking in it.
Cagebird by Karin Lowachee
Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Disclaimer: I didn't finish this one yet, but I wanted to post all three reviews together. I have around 8% left to read, and I will be finishing it, but I highly doubt anything in the end will change my opinion of this book (unless the main character in this one stumbles across the two characters from the first book making out in some dark corner).
Cagebird starts out much like Warchild did: A young boy's home colony is destroyed as part of the war, and he (eventually) ends up in the hands of a pirate. Because of that, this book really worked for me at first, and I had high hopes for it. (I love plots about brainwashing and trust issues, not to mention age and power differences in relationships.) Unfortunately, it veered off into quite a different direction than Warchild did.
Yuri, the boy in question, is sent to a refugee camp. The story focuses on that for a time, how hard the conditions are there, how society often doesn't have the care or resources to help war refugees.
Pirates have taken advantage of the disadvantaged for a long time, picking up children from them to use or sell. A pirate shows up at Yuri's refugee camp, and picks him and others to take back to his ship.
Turns out the pirate is the same captain as took Jos in book #1.
The pirate captain, Falcone, trains Yuri as he had Jos. But, unlike Jos, Yuri doesn't escape the life. Yuri embraces it. Sort of. Through the book he tries to escape a the pirate life a couple times, but that's easier said than done.
While I had loved the worldbuilding in the previous books, in this one it took a sharp left turn. In this book we learned the pirates have geisha -- beautiful boys and girls who are trained both as whores and assassins. I had a couple of issues with this. The alien world is strongly Japanese-y, so the pirates (humans) having geisha made me scratch my head. Why not come up with some other, non-Japanese word for it? The second and larger issue I had was... pirate geisha? The two ideas just don't work together in my head. The pirates had this whole geisha culture going on, and it just never fit with the idea of 'pirate'.
The other big issue I had with this book was that Yuri cut himself. It makes sense he'd be stressed as hell and have all sorts of issues, but the whole cutting thing felt seriously heavy-handed I just never believed it. (He cut himself to let the "scarlet plague" out.)
I didn't buy the Falcone character in this book either. I'm not sure if he just got away from the author, or it was the whole geisha thing throwing me off.
While I did enjoy parts of the story (all of the sections about young Yuri worked for me), all in all, I struggled to enjoy this book.
The author has a few more (3? 4?) books planned in this series, though her website makes it sound like the Gaslight Dog series has her attention right now. If she does publish more in this series, I'll read them, but I suspect I'll get more enjoyment by just rereading the first book over and over.
In my longing for more of Warchild, I hit up AO3. While there were only 20-something fics for the series, and only half of them were about the characters of the first book, almost all of those 10-ish fics were quite good. I enjoyed them all, all the voices felt accurate, other than one. (Wish I could link them and rec them directly, but I was reading in anonymous mode on my iPad, since I had no net access.)