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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review about a book you will hate to love.
All good stories make their readers regret reaching the last page. However, the best stories produce daydreams about their characters long after the last page is turned; daydreams about how these imaginary companions would behave if placed in fantasies created in a reader's head. "An Exchange of Hostages" presents a conundrum to its readers. Why? Because...
Published on 31 Mar. 1997

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Torquemada M.D.
"An Exchange of Hostages" is technically well written, but flawed in plot and characterization.

The story is set in an intergalactic society with an institutionalized Inquisition. Torture is legal form of evidence gathering. A twist is that only military, medical doctors are licensed as inquisitors.

The story revolves around a...
Published on 5 Jun. 1997


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review about a book you will hate to love., 31 Mar. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
All good stories make their readers regret reaching the last page. However, the best stories produce daydreams about their characters long after the last page is turned; daydreams about how these imaginary companions would behave if placed in fantasies created in a reader's head. "An Exchange of Hostages" presents a conundrum to its readers. Why? Because this story will make its readers delight and revel in the character development and training of a professional torturor and will then make the reader want more. Susan Matthews has managed to create a bizarre "coming of age" novel about a young surgeon forced by the dictates of family honor and pride to serve in an intergalactic military fleet which has more need for his skill in inflicting pain rather than his skill in alleviating it. This novel examines pain in depth; the mental pain of the one learning to enjoy inflicting pain and the physical pain of the one who must submit to it. Like Dante's Inferno, the reader is taken one level at a time towards more and more extreme acts of controlled violence until a horrendous destination within the human psyche is reached. Matthews guides each step with an unerring eye upon the delicate balance between fascination and revulsion. Her main character, Andrej Koscuisko, is as introspective as any Russian character in any Russian play and Matthews pulled no punches when she wrote of his physical and mental reactions to his admittedly vile training. She has managed to keep the character sympathetic by juxtaposing his reactions to the even viler reactions of those undergoing the same training. The end of the novel coincides with the end of his training and leaves the reader wondering how young Koscuisko will make use of his newfound talents in the big, wide, nasty universe. This reader hopes that Matthews' second novel will be just as disturbing as the first, even though there was a tinge of self disgust present for enjoying the first novel so much.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really bad cover on an excellent book, 24 Aug. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
All I really have to add to 2 years worth of reviews is that the cover has not one thing to do with the book. If you ever needed proof that the marketing department of most publishing houses is always located at the other end of the universe from anyone who reads the books this is it. I guess they just grabbed the first thing on the pile.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down, 29 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
A solid story, and mostly interesting characters, except for the over-the-top depiction of Andrej's rival Mergau. What I liked the most was the thought that went into providing motivations for each character; there always seem to be many, finely considered logical threads involved in a decision or viewpoint or expression of a character's viewpoint. (In that respect, I agree with the other reviewer who said this novel could only have been written by a woman.) In particular, Andrej's relation with his man Joslire is convincing on both sides, and moved me deeply. Concerning prose: it is very clear and direct on the whole, at times extremely good, but occasionally surprisingly awkward. In part I think this stems from Matthews' attempt to hint at the dialects and accents of the various cultures, plus of course the formal conventions of the military; but some of the instances cannot be explained away so easily. In any case, it is only a minor stumbling block. Finally, regarding milieu, although the setting is standard space opera fare, the details are convincing and one has the feeling that there is much left unsaid---that the rest of the universe is really "out there" somewhere. My only complaint vis-a-vis the background is, though, a rather fundamental one: wouldn't there be more efficient, less violent ways to interrogate criminals in the future? After all, the "governors" are halfway there! All in all, though, a fine book; the best I have read in a while. I look forward to reading the sequel.
(BTW, the reviewer who suggested that the characters are not human because they use base eight is wrong: there are many references to "hominid classes" in the book. I mention this because I would be put off by a book that saved such a detail as a nasty surprise for the end...)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wow., 29 Dec. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
I picked this book up without knowing anything about it, or its author, beyond what you can skim from the cover blurbs, and boy am I glad I did. Susan Matthews has done a fine job, in many ways, with spinning an illuminating tale from an ugly subject. What I liked: The fascinating way in which Matthews explores the ways in which persons can acclimate themselves to the performance of appalling acts. Beyond the "frightening truth" that the main character discovers in himself, there is also the way he mines his experience with his family and religion for perhaps not a justification for confession under torture, but at least a framework that both makes it more palatable to him and gives him a model for perfecting its practice. Matthews also provides another fascinating study through the main character's fellow student and nemesis-- a woman who, on the one hand, is happy to engage in torture to advance her position and that of her patron, and yet is incapable of "effective" torture because of her own unexamined experience. The juxtaposition of her perceptions of interchanges and those of others is also fascinating.
What I didn't like so much: Matthews does a lot with the "bond-involuntaries" in the story that is interesting, but I think she doesn't do as much as she could. While their experiences are described, their reactions to those experiences are given comparably short shrift. It is not enough, at least for me, that Matthews' main character discovers that he can learn a lot from the bond-involutaries' ability to weather their trials and, in many ways, forgive. Nor is it quite sufficient, standing alone, that we are shown the impact that Andrej's recognition of their humanity has on them (although this impact is shown quite well). The tale Matthews tells could have been even more profound if she had given a little more emotional depth to her bond-involuntary characters by really exploring the conflicts they clearly must have had. Unfortunately, there are times when Andrej's bond-indentured "companions" read a little too much like the former slaves in "Gone With The Wind." The good news is that it isn't all that frequent, nor is it anywhere near as shameless and revisionist as Margaret Mitchell's work.
For all of what I didn't like, I am going to recommend this book highly. There are not enough science fiction writers who dare to dip their pens into the wells of human darkness, nor are there very many who have done it so well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Yon undertall beauty", 18 Feb. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
This is a book only a woman could have written so well. Not because of the literary style, plot development, and characters, but because of the book's insights into human nature and the development of relationships of the noblest and basest kind.
It is also a gripping study on freedom and slavery. While there have always been slaves, willing and resentful, medicine has provided the despotic but fastidious government of the story with a type of slave who is denied not only physical freedom, but the freedom to think insubordinate thoughts while suffering the most demeaning and brutal treatment.
The main character, Andrej Koscuisko, is no less bound by his responsibility to his father and his own internal creed. This creed is best understood through observing his reaction while still in medical school to a clergyman's attempt to relieve his emotional suffering for a failure to save a plague victim's life by asserting that it was not his fault: "...a Koscuisko prince's life was defined by responsibility. To suggest that that he was not responsible - simply because he had not been at fault - was a profound violation of Andrej's basic sense of self-definition." He then summarily threw the priest out into the street. The profound suffering of the protagonist is made exquisite by the horrible, unthinkable things he must do in order to preserve some small but essential part of his honorable creed while protecting the lives of the innocent bond-involuntary slaves who are responsible for his training in "judicial inquisition" and destined to suffer and die at his hand. Only his amazing physical and intellectual abilities, along with his ability to consume literally staggering amounts of libations such as "rhyti" and "wodac," permit him any chance of doing right by anybody at all. The nobility of Koscuisko and his selfless concern for the helpless slaves and victims around him earns him the unrestrained respect of those who would normally only despise and fear him. I came to respect "yon undertall beauty," as Koscuisko is described by one of his victims. Few books so sucessfully create a character so psychotic but so honorable.
The contrast between the integrity of Koscuisko and the evil paranoia of his fellow student is also fascinating. One can only hope that few such people as Mergau Noycannir ever rise to positions of influence (but we know they often do anyway).
I had seen this book on the bookseller's shelf last year, but the title and blurbs sounded too much like a made-for-cable-movie in the "General Hospital" vein to interest me. Then, a few days ago, I read the Author's newest work "Prisoner of Conscience," and I was hooked (with meathooks and chains), unable to resist reading this first book, in what I hope will be a long series, relating the campus capers of the charming Prince Inheritor, Andrej Koscuisko, This book is not for the squeamish. However, since it is more intense than the sequel, those who find this one difficult but interesting should go ahead and read "Prisoner of Conscience." You will like it even more without having to worry about the rediscovery of the disturbing things you learned about yourself in this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, touching, frightening, provocative, 25 July 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
I had been absent from the world of Science Fiction for some time when I found this book reviewed here. The reviews were mixed, but there was obviously something that provoked controversy.

"An Exchange of Hostages" was a splendid reintroduction to the world of science fiction. I had left because no one seemed to deal with big issues or real issues (as it turns out, that was a misapprehension on my part) but this book does. One reviewer compared it to Dostoyevsky, and that may be stretching a point. But the themes and ideas covered here are worth covering, and the underlying notions are definitely worth looking at steadily.

Ms. Matthews holds a mirror up to all of us and says, in effect, this is what we do to one another. We all stand in the place of Andrej, the difference is that some of us stand there more willingly than others. The tragic heartbreak of coming to terms with who and what you are is something each of us must face at some time. We can make that journey with Andrej and learn something about ourselves.

The story is darkly introspective, and mysteriously beautiful even as it is horrifying. The themes touched upon are universal, and in some ways this book approaches the mythic.

Ms. Matthews asks hard questions and does not flinch from the answers. While the view she presents is dark, it is valid and true. (It is not, however the complete view).

This novel is a "bildungsroman" par excellance, and it would be a shame for anyone interested in literature and fine writing to pass it up.

This will probably be a book that I read again and again, if only to remind myself of some of the important truths touched upon here. Ms. Matthews points out that we are all Calibans, but not all necessarily unlovable because of that. A difficult task, deftly accomplished.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The story is the reverse of "Young Hero" folk tales, 7 April 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
An Exchange of Hostages by Susan R. Matthews

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Before anything else I must say this is a very, very good book. . Its well written, clean, and clear. It tells a straight forward, well defined story with a clear beginning and a clear end. The author tells the story from many different viewpoints: the protagonist and no less than five supporting characters. Each of these people are clearly distinct and real individuals; with their own goals, priorities and background.

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I spent more time analyzing why I liked this book, then I did in reading several lesser novels. This book is nearly a complete reversal of the "Young Hero" story, where an obscure youth becomes a great champion. The hero of the story, Andrej Ulexeievitch Koscuisko, is more like a young Alexander, destined for greatness. He is the eldest son of a Ranking Prince, due to inherit control of a major corporation.

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The Fleet school for ship surgeons is also a reversal. It does not create responsible, conscientious, disciplined healers, but callous sociopaths. A Ship's Surgeon's main responsibility is not healing but torturing.

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Andrej finds himself nearly as trapped in the system as a bond-involuntary. Andrej is pledged to serve the Fleet for the next 8 years.

We see Andrej's changes and experiences through not only his eyes, but that of his Tutor, two of the Fleet's slaves, a fellow student, and a doctor.

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Despite the setting and the premise, the story is fascinating. Its rich in detail and believability. There have been several other torturers in Science Fiction books, but this one is the most three dimensional.

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This book calls out for a sequel, but I'm afraid of where it will lead. Will our hero continue his fall from the heavens? Or break into gibbering pieces? Or cause the death of millions, and the destruction of order?
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2.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Torquemada M.D., 5 Jun. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
"An Exchange of Hostages" is technically well written, but flawed in plot and characterization.

The story is set in an intergalactic society with an institutionalized Inquisition. Torture is legal form of evidence gathering. A twist is that only military, medical doctors are licensed as inquisitors.

The story revolves around a brilliant, young doctor consigned to the medical corps by his aristocratic-familial duty, finds he has a Torquemada streak.

In the story, except for the main character none of the other characters resolve themselves. The background society also remains unresolved, despite constant references to political movements and ethnic divisions. The gothic atmosphere of torture, substance abuse, political intrigue, veiled and unveiled homosexuality got boring in their detail.

What really annoyed me, is the story did not end. The book is the first part of a who-knows-how-many installment series. The jacket liner blurbs do not state this. I had a hard time reading the first part, I'm going to save my money when "Dr. Torquemada:Part II" is published..
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5.0 out of 5 stars Andrej is so multi-dimensional, it dazzles the eye, 31 Mar. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
From the first word to the last, it is a powerful book that grabs you by the guts.For me it was about the deepest depths of the human soul that is forced to exist in faceless societies, among rules that are created to stiffle it. In this respect, this is one of the most optimistic books I ever read. The ray of hope, however slim sometimes, radiates in this dark corner of man-made misery.It is absolutely breathtaking how the author weaves a simple story: a man and a woman learning the basics of their future profession into a tight, suspenseful drama. I have little time to read with two kids, full time work, and I usually give my sleep for a book, and the hours I gave to this one proved to be the most satisfying time of my day.I'm not a science fiction affictionado, and this book was not science fiction for me. I know that the SF fans will appreciate the world created for this book, the races and all, but for me, this book plays in the very world we live in. Andrej is so multi-dimensional, it dazzles the eye.There were such characters in history with horrendous secrets and enormous drive to do good.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but interesting first novel, 12 Jun. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: An Exchange of Hostages (Mass Market Paperback)
This was okay... not awful not great. It's set in a distant future, in which an *extremely* unpleasant interstellar society enforces its rule through Inquirers -- carefully trained judicial torturers. The book follows one such student torturer through his course work, to graduation.

The student is actually a rather nice fellow who doesn't at all want to be there -- he's been forced into it by his family, as punishment -- but it turns out that he has a real aptitude for the work...

Pro, an interesting character study, and an intriguing picture of a good man in a thoroughly unjust world, somewhat reminiscent of Kafka or Dostoevsky. Con, it's about 20,000 words too long; relies on melodrama just a bit too much; and -- dammit -- turns out to be the first book in a series. I HATE it when they do that to us.

Personally I think Gene Wolfe explored this material better in the character of Severian the Torturer in the "New Sun" books. But if someone would edit this woman a little more strongly, she could be good. One to watch.
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An Exchange of Hostages
An Exchange of Hostages by Susan R. Matthews (Mass Market Paperback - 1 April 1997)
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