on 4 September 1998
"I'll manage, I'll master your language, and in the meantime, I'll create my own, by my own" - Tricky
Colonization and class are explored in Westerfeld's second novel, a deeply rich affair that continuously belies assumptions and comforting stereotypes.
The colonizers are the Aya. Apparently benign, their technology (captured with a Philip K. Dick-like joy of invention) has permeated the Earth. The pervasive influence of the Aya is felt despite their infrequent presence, capturing the remote omnipresence of the colonizer. This presence lurks over the stunning, deeply f***ed up coming-of-age story of a young student of the Ayan language named Spider. The language is devilishly complex, and only the best and brightest humans can learn it, so Spider is a sharp-witted observer. In addition to the introspection typical of coming-of-age tales, finely detailed cameos of eccentric, fascinating characters round out Westerfelds Ayanized Earth. Every setting and each new character is a delight, while your favorite characters (Quarter and Foxtrot are mine) appear and re-appear, illuminating and enriching the tale.
Spider matures in a truly global society where old money and new money, royalty and religion play out their battles of manners through the fine hunt. The fine hunt is a fusion of gymkhana and fox hunting--the pursuits of today's English upper class--spiced with biotechnology borrowed from the Aya. We typically find Spider's upper-class peers gossipping in Wildean fashion in foreign bars, like the effete heirs to an overtaken empire. Westerfeld's future tastes of the Raj. And in keeping with the English experience of cricket, the colonzied beat the colonizers at their own game, not the fine hunt, but a far older ritual.
Spider demands more than the reserved world of the fine hunt and is drawn to the seemingly darker, but ultimately more humane,underworld of the claw hunt. She gains a lover - a gloriously stalwart character, much beloved by this reader - and a sister of sorts - an outlaw student of Ayan. The sister's education, in contrast to Spider's rigid schooling, comes from a fusion of mythology and technology, breathtakingly recounted. With their guidance, Spider crosses the fine line and back again, creates a new language of the victim, and becomes divine.
Fine Prey is a book which loves language as much as the Aya do, but loves humanity more.