Review: Pawn, Timothy Zahn


Timothy Zahn’s Pawn packs quite a few different concepts and plot points into a compact, fast-moving book that just leaves readers looking for more.

Alien abductions are nothing new, really, for science fiction. At this point, using the conceit, as Timothy Zahn does for Pawn, requires a little something extra to make it interesting. Whether or not you’ll find his choices to freshen it up good is up to you. (This, as you may expect, will be a mostly spoiler-free review.) But yours truly enjoyed them nevertheless.

Not long after the start of Pawn, Nicole finds herself and two other humans transported to the Fyrantha, a ship in need of repairs. Nicole herself is a Sibyl, someone who can use an inhaler and hear the ship speaking to her. (It’s a nice updating of ancient sibyls, who supposedly heard the voices of the gods.) But the Fyrantha is not all that it seems.

Yours truly gives Pawn 4/5 stars, based on its tightly-woven plotting and willingness to leave some things unexplained for the presumed next book in the series.

The Good

Things actually pay off in Pawn. Zahn might let certain plot points lie for a while, but if it’s necessary to resolve the major conflicts of this book at the very least, he doesn’t forget about them. And, thankfully, neither does his protagonist. Nicole doesn’t have a real background in science, and that actually works better than you may expect. Instead, she has a lot of positive traits and a willingness to observe things. She pays attention, and so we pay attention along with her, as to be expected. It’s done well enough, though, that it doesn’t feel as though Zahn is telling readers to look at specific things in all caps. Instead, a reader has to file some things away for later, too.

But nor does Nicole sit back and let the plot happen to her. The inside of the dust jacket promises that she’s “going to fight,” and indeed, she actively changes things on board the Fyrantha. The other species she encounters all have distinct traits, characters have distinct personalities, and the cast as a whole works together. Nicole, though, holds it all together — as she should, since she’s the protagonist and all.

As said earlier, though, Zahn doesn’t solve every single mystery for the readers by the end of the print copy’s 347 pages. Consider yours truly hooked … or, considering the chess metaphor … captured?

The Not-So-Good

My biggest complaint about Pawn is this: The dialogue can feel a little awkward at times. Granted, Zahn has a bit of leeway here. (There’s a minor spoiler here.) Not all the alien species on board speak English. In fact, not even all of the humans do. Nicole has a translator put on the side of her head, and so she has to adjust to it speaking English while others speak their own languages. It’s a nice touch on the whole, though readers who don’t like the idea of body horror might be a bit squicked out all the same by the translator. Indeed, Zahn even has some fun with it at points.

The Recommendation

If you’re familiar with Zahn’s Star Wars work (like Thrawn), Pawn will feel familiar enough to you despite the new setting and characters. Clocking in at under 350 pages, it makes a quick enough read, helped along by the plotting and Nicole’s strength as a heroine.

Next: Review: Walkaway, Cory Doctorow

You can check Pawn out at your bookseller or library of choice.