This is one for my Armchair Cybils reading, nominated in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. I picked it up specifically as a boy-oriented book, to keep my reading balanced.
The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos. Tom Doherty Associates, 2013.
Mason is a space cadet, doing some peaceful required space time along with a bunch of other cadets on board the large SS Egypt. His older sister (and only surviving family member) is a junior officer on board, as well. He’s just gotten in trouble for pulling a prank that went a little farther than he’d meant it when the ship is attacked by the Tremist, the aliens whom humans have been fighting for the last 60 years.
In short order, the ship is under Tremist control. They have killed the captain, who is the mother of one of the cadets. Only the cadets and one gravely injured senior officer remain, leaving Mason in command. He is able to wrest control of the ship back from the Tremist – but then things get worse, worse again, and even worse. Then the plot takes a twist that puts a whole new spin on who the Tremist really are.
Planet Earth is in Danger, and it’s Up to the Kids to Save the Day – two rather clichéd starting points. However, it’s not going to be clichéd for kids, and Krokos does a great job even for more experienced readers of taking relatively common plot points and using them in a new way. This is action-packed military sci-fi – I was glad that I was reading it over lunch breaks at work rather than at bedtime at home, as it left me literally heart pounding and shaking with adrenaline. While this is really so not my thing, there are many people (boys included) for whom this would be great. Krokos also has interesting commentary on what it means to be human and environmentalism.
(As Charlotte noted in her review, there are Tremist techno-mages called Rhadgasts, whom my eyes also wanted to read as “Radagast”, the wizard of Middle Earth.)
It’s really clear from the first chapter that this is a book with a high body count, so not great for more sensitive readers. I don’t think they’re likely to get past the cover, though, which is fine. I would have liked more in the way of character development – I felt like I never really got to know anyone but Mason – but that, too, often goes with the military sci-fi territory and shouldn’t deter the target audience. However, if you have lovers of military sci-fi aged about 10 or 11 and up (depending on the reader), looking for a thrilling space adventure – this is a fine choice.