By request of the author (she's a really nice gal, by the way, you ought to drop her a line through her website or social media) this week we're taking a look at The Faarian Chronicles: Exile, by Karen Harris Tully.
When I first read the summary on the back of this book, I saw hints of the Space Empire trope first developed in Frank Herbert's Dune and expanded on since then with Star Wars, Stargate, and Firefly (to name a few). The idea so charmed me that I also picked up a copy of Dune so I could do a little parallel reading, to see what carried over and what was changed for a more modern audience.
I would be doing this book and its author a disservice if I didn't start by saying - I love this story. At its most simplistic, this is a story of a girl with unique heritage trying to deal with circumstances beyond her control, live up to the military legend that is her mother, and not die as people she doesn't know try to use her or kill her for reasons she doesn't understand.
But I also promised an honest review, so here's the skinny: [WARNING] Conceptual spoilers below. No names or events mentioned.
Format: +10 The chapters in this book are very short. Usually between 7 and 10 pages long each. Nice, bite-sized chunks that made it easy to start and stop between other tasks.
Intro: -4 The beginning of this book was slow, emphasizing the "normal" that the main character leaves behind in Chapter 5 and highlighting the things being left behind. That's important to do, but the real appeal of this story wasn't capitalized on to draw in the reader.
Characters: +7 The main character is vivid and real, and exactly as irritating as I usually find 15-year-olds. So kudos on that. Friends she meets on the way have plenty of personality, and leave me wanting to know more about them.
Plot: +15 Love love love the premise of this story, at least partially because it has so much of what I live on. New cultures, space travel, alien technology, complex relationships, political intrigue! The ideas here are fantastic, and I think with a bit more polish, this book could graduate from "good" to "great."
Message: -10 I've written a lot recently on how as an author, I have to be conscious of what lessons my story is communicating to my readers. This is things like Lord of the Rings' "we must act for the good of future generations, not just for our own good," or Call of the Wild's "indecision and submission is weakness, weakness is death." The message I heard in this story, chapter after chapter, was "adults will never help you, even when they want to." Now, this might have been accidental, and a result of the story's composure and focus on teenage angst, but the message is there nonetheless, and that's not the kind of message I would want to communicate to a young reader.
Elements: +8 There was a lot of confusion (on my part) about who the antagonist was. There were space vampires, "other" aliens, killer alien birds, drought, disease, famine, government "big brother," and political intrigue, in addition to the usual teen drama of "no one likes me." These are all good elements and fun tools for the author to play with, but they weren't well-mixed, like when your pancake batter turns out a little lumpy. Some of the ingredients felt tacked on, instead of just part of the world. I think a little more mixing and a little more world development might have helped integrate this veritable dystopia of antagonists into a wholistic world and a culture that maybe went a little farther than "warrior women and giant telepathic space cats."
To conclude: this was a fun story. Very fun. I enjoyed it immensely. But it could have been a winner - a classic. It just didn't quite get there. I look forward to reading the other two books in this series and updating this review to reflect what I find there. :)