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11 December 2011

published softcover (this WMG edition in 2011, previously in 2002)
Reviewed by Lyn McConchie.

The trouble with this book is that it’s too good. And if that sounds odd, bear with me. The book was a gift, I scanned the blurb and thought that it should be a good read because a) the author writes well, and b) it’s a very intriguing plot. Both items were right and thereby was the problem.
In this universe humans and aliens have made agreements relating to what is and isn’t legal in their various spheres of influence. And the trouble is, that on Earth the Government has accepted that alien laws should supercede ours.
Case One. A human, female, lawyer, sentenced to the rest of her life – and it’ll be short – performing brutal hard labour because she won her client’s case. It’s more complicated than that, but no one explained it to her and now she’s on the run.
Case Two. a terrified traumatized human, male, child of eight. Kidnapped legally because aliens are entitled under their own laws to visit the sins of the father upon the child. He’ll be mentally broken beyond ever being put together by what they’ll do, and our Government says that’s okay, it’s legal. He’s been returned for the moment – and now the family is on the run.
Case Three, four, five, et al – more of the same, and those that the aliens haven’t caught up with are The Disappeared. Those who’ve gone deep under cover, walked away from everything they know, from all friends and family, from every single possession – to put themselves in the hands of experts who specialize in ‘disappearing’ humans hunted by alien legal systems.
Yes, this book is very well-written, yes, the background and characters are compelling, yes, it’s one of a series, so if you like it there’s more already out and others coming. And no. I won’t be re-reading this book, no, I won’t ever be buying others in the series, and no, from now on I’ll check any book by this author twice before buying – or accepting.
Why? because it was too effective. I too am a writer and as such I have imagination and empathy. I could imagine myself unwittingly caught in a similar situation and suffering those punishments.
(one alien species disembowels the humans it catches who break their laws – and the laws can be very easily broken. Here a 17 year old dies that way because as a ten year old he taught his best (alien) friend next door to speak English. Best friend developed to be a neuter and it’s retrospectively forbidden. So after running for seven years, the boy is caught and left to die in agony for a sin he committed without knowledge or intention – as a child.)
And it distressed me. I finished the book, laid it down and felt disgusted and physically slightly nauseated. I know ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but when that sort of punishment is routine, when the perpetrator is a child, ignorance should be a valid defence. Nor should aliens be legally allowed to kidnap and mentally shatter an eight-year-old, because twenty years ago his father broke one of their laws.
This book is compelling, all too believable, and strikes out into new territory – for all of which reasons, the author has lost me. I could too easily put myself in the characters’ places, and I’d rather not be there. If it sounds like a book you’d enjoy then buy it. For me, it was too good – and that was the problem.

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