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Pawn
by Timothy Zahn
Tor, $25.99, 347 pages
Published: May 2017

Timothy Zahn is a captivating storyteller, as millions of us know from his Quadrail and Dragonback series, not to mention his contributions to the Star Wars literary canon. He is also a wonderful person to talk to at conventions.  He is adept at describing the internal landscapes of motivations, hopes and fears, as well as the imagined external landscapes of new worlds.

Nicole Hammond is a small-time player in an underworld game of drugs, theft and violence – only a pawn, not even good enough to rate petty thief.  One morning she wakes up with a hangover to find her few belongings have been stolen and the very dangerous Bungie demanding she get him medical attention after his latest bout of asserting dominance. 

Bungie really should have solved his problem on his own, because it turns out that Nicole’s tendency to hear voices murmuring in her head does not mean she’s crazy, it means she is qualified to be a sibyl for a quasi-sentient spaceship. The trouble is, when the alien Wisps kidnap Nicole, they also bring along Bungie and the young doctor Bungie was menacing at the time. 

Nicole may be finding a purpose and a haven from her old way of life on board the spaceship, maybe even a shot at romance, but both Bungie and Sam deeply resent being yanked from their world and their highly successful lives.  If they can’t get back to Earth, they will at least derive satisfaction from committing sabotage, and Nicole is too conflicted, and too intimidated, to stop them.

But when Nicole stumbles upon a hidden part of the ship that serves as an arena for aliens species pitted against each other, she is drawn into interfering, even though she is warned this could have terrible repercussions.  Listening to her conscience and listening to the ship gives Nicole a double earful; listening to her intuition and her developing facility for logic saves her life.  What might this pawn become –  if she survives the counter moves?

Since this is subtitled “A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War”, there is clearly more to follow. We can expect unanswered questions to constitute grounds for further volumes.   – Chris Wozney

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