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A Goddess with a Real Face
on 16 February 2009
This is the fourth book set in the Old Man's War universe, but it's not a continuation of the story arcs he established in the first three, but rather a retelling of the events of the third book, The Last Colony, but told this time from a very different perspective, that of sixteen year old Zoe Boutin-Perry, daughter of a traitor, the object of a major treaty between the Colonial Union and the Obin, and adopted by John and Jane Perry.
Now doing something like this is fraught with peril, as readers of the earlier books will certainly know how everything ends, and will therefore have little sense of suspense throughout this work. It is even more perilous for a middle-aged man to attempt to find the correct `voice' for a teenaged female, one that rings true and will appeal to younger readers, and still engage readers of much greater ages. I'm happy to say that Mr. Scalzi quite deftly succeeded very, very well with both the characterization and being able to still hold at least this reader glued to the pages, even without the suspense.
Zoe herself is a full-bodied person, one you'd definitely like to meet, someone you come to care about a great deal over the course of this work. She's not perfect, she makes mistakes, occasionally her sarcasm and biting comments might make you grimace, and there is an element of unthinking `me-ness' to her, an attitude that she's unique. But in this case, she really is unique - not many girls can say that they are the goddess-object of an entire alien race. But besides her, several of her close friends also come alive as real people, something that's a little rare in first-person perspective works. Gretchen, Magdy, and Enzo are very much real people, and even better, real teenagers.
Certain aspects of other major players are given better backgrounds, most especially the Obin and Zoe's two Obin bodyguards, Hickory and Dickory, and a certain story `hole' in The Last Colony gets a better, fuller explanation. These are nice touches that help hold your interest.
Scalzi's writing style has much to do with your enjoyment of this book. It's witty, sarcastic, funny, thoughtful, and incredibly easy to read, a trait he shares with a writer he's often compared to, namely Robert Heinlein. But beyond this, in this book he also grabs your jugular of emotional response, expertly playing you like a harp, and making you at time furious, sad, and very strongly up-lifted to the point of tears. It's just this strong emotional content that makes me think this book is better than The Last Colony, and on par with the first book of this series, Old Man's War.
All in all, a great accomplishment, one that should appeal to both teenagers and old codgers like me.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)