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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m gushing about The Warchild Mosaic by Karin Lowachee, a science fiction series that currently contains the novels Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird; the collection Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe; and the novella Under the Silence. This is my favorite science fiction series, and Karin Lowachee is a master of voice, characterization, and ripping my heart out. (Yes, I consider the latter a positive quality.)

Cover of Warchild by Karin Lowachee Cover of Burndive by Karin Lowachee Cover of Cagebird by Karin Lowachee

Karin Lowachee’s Warchild Mosaic is character-driven science fiction at its very best. She’s adept at digging into the people she writes and making you feel deeply for them, and though they’re all dealing with traumas—sometimes similar ones, as they’re usually related to the war between humans and aliens and/or space pirates—they each have distinct voices, personalities, and reactions to all that they endure.

Each of the three novels in this universe has a different protagonist, but they do tie together with each expanding on the previous one(s) to show the bigger picture. Warchild, the first book in the series, has both my favorite story and my favorite protagonist in the series so far. This focuses on Jos, who was captured by the pirates that destroyed his merchant ship when he was eight years old. Although the captain of the pirate ship sold the other children he took, he decided to keep smart, pretty Jos for himself and mold him into someone whose attractiveness he can use for his own ends. Jos escapes about a year after his capture and is then trained by the assassin-priest who rescued him, who eventually sends him to spy on an enemy ship.

Warchild is an amazing work, largely because of Jos, his voice, and his complicated relationships with others on both sides of the war. The opening sequence starting with the attack on his ship is especially powerful, as it captures just how young he is, and the narrative choice to use second-person perspective for the earliest chapters set on the pirate ship adds urgency to the tenser parts while keeping Jos himself at a distance from the most horrific events of his life. Though this obviously deals with some heavy subjects, this is the least grim novel in the series: in part, because Jos would prefer not to remember what happened to him and therefore doesn’t go into detail about it, but also because there is some amusing banter among the ship’s crew and an emotionally satisfying (if somewhat rushed) ending.

The next book in the sequence, Burndive, took me longer to get into than the first book but still ended up being great (even if Ryan is my least favorite protagonist). Ryan is the son of a major character in Warchild, and he survives a horrifying shooting that he suspects was an attempt on his life due to his father’s actions at the end of the previous book. It’s largely about how this event affects him and his relationship with his father, who Ryan hasn’t actually seen much given that he’s usually in space. The highlights of this novel for me were the parts that tied in most with the previous book: seeing some of its characters and learning more about Ryan’s father. He’s hardened and ruthless but also compassionate, and I found him to be the most complex and fascinating character in this novel.

Cagebird, the rawest, most character-driven of the three novels, is my favorite after Warchild. Yuri’s story covers events that take place before, during, and after the previous two books, from how his planet was destroyed by war when he was a child to how he became the pirate captain’s new protégé after Jos escaped. Unlike Jos, Yuri is unaware of his situation on the pirate ship at first: he thinks he’s been hired to work on a merchant ship that seems far better than the planet for refugees he came from. Also unlike Jos, Yuri is candid about his painful experiences during his time on the pirate ship after he learns the truth about its captain and his plans for him, which start with geisha training. The work Karin Lowachee does with Yuri’s character study is phenomenal, and I loved that he started as rather unlikable (especially given the end of the previous book) and became more sympathetic: he’s been trapped and used, and this is a book that really digs into what shaped the protagonist.

Although I love the novels and their more in-depth focus on a few key individuals the most, Omake is also excellent. These stories showcase the author’s skill at writing a variety of people with distinct voices and making them feel real in a way few authors can manage. (The novels should be read first since many of these stories are character studies that will be missing some context otherwise.)

The recent novella Under the Silence, set after Burndive, is a lovely exploration of a changing relationship: one that’s delicate and difficult because of scars that make it impossible for someone to just be close to someone else, no matter how much they might want to be. Like with the other shorter stories, I didn’t love it the same way I did the novels, but I’m glad I read it. It has some gorgeous moments and beautiful lines that made me pause to admire them.

Karin Lowachee has the gift of creating characters that are more complex, flawed, compelling, and real than most fictional people. This is the main reason the novels in her Warchild Mosaic are some of my favorite books, and I’m eagerly awaiting Matryoshka and The Warboy.

Additional Reading on The Warchild Mosaic and Karin Lowachee: