Serena’s Review: “Honor Among Thieves”

30129657Book: “Honor Among Thieves” by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it

Book Description: Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

Review: It’s been way too long since I’ve reviewed a sci fi novel on this blog. While I love the fact that YA fantasy fiction is booming, it does make me sad that sci fi fiction seems to have been left on the sidelines for the most part. I mean, you can have just as much fun in space as you can riding around on a horse with a sword! Arguably, more. I’ve also read a few of Rachel Caine’s books in the past, and the book description for this one, of a teenage girl forming a connection with a sentient ship/alien, sounded right up my alley!

So this book was a bit of a roller coaster for me. There were things that I really enjoyed. Things that I wasn’t expecting at all that I quite liked. And other things that kind of knocked me out of the story with too many questions about plausibility and the pacing of the plot.

To start with the things I really liked: the characters. Zara is a great leading lady and the authors walk the line fairly well in keeping with the hardness that has made up her life on the street, the trauma that still exists from her childhood, while also making her sympathetic, and more importantly, believable. Her harshness is well-grounded in past events, and as the story progresses and she forms a connection with Nadim and her fellow shipmate Beatriz, we see her not only begin to open up to those around her but begin to question her own understanding of friendship and loyalty and how damaged some of her past relationships really were.

Nadim was everything I could have wanted from a sentient ship/alien. He was sufficiently “other,” with his own biological quirks and distance from human concepts of gender and other social norms. As the story unfolds, we begin to unravel the mysteries of his species and see in what ways Nadim stands out from the other Leviathan. While his relationship with Zara and Beatriz are at the core of the story, we also see glimpses into the role he plays among his own people and social hierarchies that exist there. I particularly enjoyed the parallels between the Leviathan and whales, especially their unique relationship to sound and music.

Beatriz took me completely by surprise. As you can see in the book description, there is no indication that this isn’t just a Zara/Nadim story. Instead, the Honors program is set up to send two cadets into space with their own Leviathan, and Beatriz is Zara’s crew mate. We all know how much I love sisterhood/girl friendship stories, so I was thrilled when I realized that’s what was being set up here. What’s more, Beatriz is an excellent contrast to Zara. Originally, she struggles much more with the vastness of space and the otherness of Nadim. But she also brings unique strengths to the crew with her abilities as a pilot and masterful singing voice. What made this all the more interesting was the idea that while Zara and Nadim have a special connection, it is by no means the only connection that matters. Beatriz, too, is just as much a needed and valued member of this team. It really is more of a three-way relationship than a traditional romance, with each pairing having their own specific connections to each other.

My struggles with this book had a lot to do with the first third of the story. The pacing seemed off for much of the beginning, with Zara rushing through several different set pieces and action scenes before finally landing herself with Nadim. We have her on the streets! Then she’s caught! Now she’s in a facility! Now she’s famous! Finally out to space! It all zips by in only a few chapters. I get that the authors wanted to get to the good stuff, but the story might have been served better had these things been told in flash backs. As it stands, I felt off balance for the entire first third and had a hard time really connecting to the characters and the story because it was too busy jumping from one thing to another.

My other criticism also comes from this first bit and it’s a straight out plausibility issue. Again, I get that the authors wanted to get Zara to the ship as fast as possible and for her to go through most of her character growth through her experiences there. However, the way it is set up, we’re supposed to believe that all training and preparation for the Honors takes place over a single week. And that somehow, after that, they’re ready to go out on a year-long mission and manage complicated scientific and mathematical equations during their work. The way the Honors are chosen makes this even worse. It’s not like they’re coming from a pool of candidates who have all had rigorous training up to this point and could theoretically be made ready with a short turn around. No, this is just a random draw from the entire population and Zara herself has been living on the streets for years, with no education to speak of.

I would always have a problem with this set up, and it’s just made worse by the story its serving. I LIKED the science and action in this book. It’s a true science fiction story with discussions of the equations needed to pilot in space, the knowledge of natural science needed to explore new planets, and the machinery skills necessary to maintain a ship. But with each moment when these skills were necessary for their survival or the completion of a task, I was reminded of how impossible it would be for Zara and Beatriz to have learned any of this in only one week. So each time it came up, I was thrown out of the book. Again, maybe flashbacks to a longer training time period would have helped this. All I really needed was something saying that, say, even 6 months went by with blah blah boring training blah. Great! Now I can buy it! But as it stands, I had a real problem with it.

But those things aside, I still very much enjoyed this book. It reminded me of how awesome books in space can be, and it fully capitalized on the concept of a living spaceship forming a connection to its pilots. The action was suspenseful and varied, and the mysteries about the Leviathan that were answered and that still remain are enough to keep me reading. Plus, one can hope that now that we’re through the first book, in a second outing, I’d have less problems with their skill sets since maybe they just picked things up what with their time on the ship. If you like science fiction and are able to turn your brain off a bit, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 7: Plausibility issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of teenagers in space with a living ship!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Honor Among Thieves” is a newer title, so isn’t on many relevant Goodrads lists, but it is on  “Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!”

Find “Honor Among Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

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