Number 12 in my latest reading project is Warchild by Karin Lowachee (published in 2002).
Content note: descriptions of / allusions to child molestation.
Eight-year-old Joslyn Musey’s life changes when his parents die in an attack on his home ship, the merchant vessel Mukudori. Jos and a few other of the ship’s children are captured by the notorious pirate Falcone’s troops and whisked off to be sold to slavers. Jos catches Falcone’s eye and is kept on as his personal boy toy, to be groomed into a child “host” of sorts to “aid” in his business dealings.
In this 22nd century universe, humans are at war with the striviirc-na, a race inhabiting a few systems in a direction humans wish to expand in. The aliens and their human sympathizer allies are caught in a technological arms race to catch up to EarthHub while trying to stop human incursions into the neutral zone or even into the striviirc-na territory.
After about a year on board Falcone’s ship Genghis Khan, Jos is able to escape his clutches during a station visit and an attack by the striviirc-na. Wounded, he is taken to the alien homeworld by Nikolas S’tlian, the leader of the human sympathizer movement and the head of the striviirc-na fleet.
Nikolas, popularly known as Warboy, slowly gains Jos’s trust and trains him to become one of the ka’redane (assassin-priests), the ruling caste on the planet. At age 14, after he’s accepted into the ka’redan order, he joins the EarthHub armed forces ship Macedon on an undercover mission to spy on their military leadership.
Although his experiences on Falcone’s ship still make it difficult for him to let anyone get close, Jos does forge new friendships during basic training. Consequently, he begins to wonder where his allegiances really lie (essentially struggling with the nature vs. nurture debate). At the same time, he must find a way around increased security measures aboard the Macedon to continue his communiques to Nikolas.
I’ve seen Warchild compared to Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and I’ve seen it described as a YA book. I wouldn’t recommend giving Warchild to your (pre)teen without reading it first yourself, though, because much like Ender’s Game it’s not for young adults as much as it’s about them.
It’s essentially a character-driven story of an abused child in a war-torn universe, a coming-of-age-with-trauma story. Lowachee manages to deliver emotionally charged situations without graphic violence, yet with palpable tension. At the same time, it’s not merely about survival, but about belonging and trust and (emotional or mental) intimacy. Warchild is also well plotted, with intelligent use of second person vs. third person narration to highlight plot events.
P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.