Pawn (A Chronicle of the Sybil’s War: Book 1) by Timothy Zahn

Rating: 4.6 (out of 10)

Pawn is the story of Nicole, a teenage alcoholic and sometime criminal who is whisked away by aliens from her dead-end life on Earth to a living spaceship called the Fyrantha, where she discovers she is a Sybil – a rare human with the ability to communicate with the ship. Working on the ship gives her a new purpose in life, but she soon discovers that secrets are being kept from her, and she is drawn into a deadly conflict between two different alien species on the ship; a conflict orchestrated by the ship’s masters.

This is the sort of story that appeals to SFF fans, from Star Wars to Harry Potter – an ordinary person who escapes their depressingly humdrum existence to a world of “magic” and discovers they have a special place in the order of things. Zahn is an old pro at the sci-fi game, and he knows how to pace and plot a story and deal with the hard science angles, but the results are mediocre everywhere else. The world of the Fyrantha is an interesting one at first, but the more he opens things up the less interesting it becomes. None of the characters, including protagonist Nicole, ever developed into anyone I could get invested in, and even the YA-ish premise fails to live up to the more entertaining examples of that category. The conclusion, in which all the “big secrets” are revealed, was greeted by me with a shrug, resulting in a cookie cutter sequel set-up that I’m not terribly interested in reading.

A real disappointment.

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