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Cagebird
Karin Lowachee
Warner Aspect, 448 pages

Cagebird
Karin Lowachee
Karin Lowachee's family moved from Guyana, South America to near Toronto, Ontario when she was about 2 years old. After university, she tried various jobs unrelated to writing, before being rejected from the graduate writing program at the University of British Columbia. Offered the chance, she went to Rankin Inlet on the west coast of Hudson Bay where she spent 9 months. Her novel, Warchild, won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest.

Karin Lowachee Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Burndive
SF Site Review: Warchild
SF Site Review: Warchild
SF Site Interview: Karin Lowachee
Article: The Backburner Book
SF Site Excerpt: Warchild

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Cagebird is not precisely a sequel. Like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow, it is a parallax book in which events from one novel are explored again through another character. Karin Lowachee started this unusual parallax series with her first novel, Warchild in which Jos Musey, an orphan escaping from pirates, was trained by aliens to fight against humanity. Her second book, Burndive, focussed on the simultaneous exploits of Ryan Azarcon, spoiled son of a famous Earth captain. And now she's back again, hitting events from a third angle in Cagebird, the story of a pirate's protege, Yuri Kirov.

In Lowachee's future universe, a war is raging between Earth and the alien "strit" race. Some human renegades have taken the side of the strits, and human pirates are capitalizing on the chaos to prey on victims everywhere.

Yuri Kirov is only a small child when his home colony is destroyed by the aliens and, after a confused evacuation, his family washes up at a barren, remote refugee camp. The kids run half wild in the camp, and eventually Yuri is recruited by a visiting "merchant" ship. Once he goes aboard, he discovers that the ship is manned by pirates, and that his angelic good looks have drawn the attention of the captain, Marcus. Marcus takes over his life, manipulating him emotionally and sexually, and grooming him for eventual command.

That's all back story, filled in as the novel progresses. The main action takes place after Marcus's death. Yuri, now 22 and taken captive by Earth forces, is released from prison in a staged escape so that he can infiltrate his own people. Now he's the tool of ruthless and manipulative Black Ops operatives, as well as being still a prisoner of his own training and his angry, twisted sexuality.

I'll admit that I had trouble sticking with this book. This is an extremely violent narrative, related with uncompromising intensity. Readers who have a low tolerance for brutality and disturbing sex had best avoid this (especially those who will be upset by homosexual scenes and child abuse).

I also bogged down in detail. The degree of political backstroke that has built up in Lowachee's universe is very considerable, and what with all the flashing back and forward, I simply got confused, even though I had read the other two books.

Aspects of the plot also troubled me. Yuri is attracted to a man named Finch who he meets in prison -- so much so that he breaks Finch out with him. Yet, I never found that at all plausible -- in fact, Finch's entire presence in the book seemed much too convenient, and Finch himself seemed sketchy compared to other characters, not to mention unconvincing as either as a hardened prisoner or a love interest.

Most seriously, I was unable to empathize with Lowachee's troubled protagonist and, despite his ordeals, lost interest in whether or not he achieved redemption.

Lowachee is a talented writer and I respect the way she portrays the terrible human cost of war, yet I didn't like Cagebird (or Burndive) anywhere near as much as her first novel, Warchild. I'm hoping she'll be moving onto different ground in her next novel.

Copyright © 2006 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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