Pawn by Timothy Zahn science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPawn by Timothy Zahn science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPawn by Timothy Zahn

Nicole has been running with the wrong crowd. One day she wakes up, hungover as usual, in some guy’s apartment. A street thug named Bungie is kicking her, demanding that she drive him to the hospital because he’s about to bleed out. In the hospital’s parking lot, Bungie and Nicole attempt to kidnap a young doctor named Sam when two wispy creatures with butterfly wings approach and take all three of the humans to a huge spaceship called the Fyrantha.

On the ship, Nicole is told that she is a sybil, someone who can listen to the Fyrantha and direct the maintenance crews to make needed repairs. All she has to do is inhale a drug that gives her access to the ship’s mind. After Nicole adjusts to the routine she begins to appreciate being safe and well-fed, having an important job to do, being relied upon, having a purpose in life, and maybe even making some real friends. It’s a lot better than her previous lifestyle of being an alcoholic with nowhere to go, nothing productive to do, and always running for her life.

But there are problems. One is that Bungie and Sam are not happy about being taken off Earth and they are scheming to get back. Bungie, in particular, is a ruthless bully who is always trying to exploit others for his own gain, and he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. A second problem is the discovery that there are some cute Ewok-like animals that are being mistreated on the ship. And a third problem is that the drug Nicole is inhaling may be shortening her life significantly.

Pawn by Timothy Zahn science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsI appreciated the fast pace of Timothy Zahn’s Pawn (2017), but I didn’t care for the simple utilitarian writing style, the characters, or the plot. It’s not much fun to be in Nicole’s head. At least at first she thinks she’s stupid and worthless (she’s not wrong about this) and she’s always trying to find people’s “hooks” and figure out how to manipulate them. She doesn’t like people for themselves but as a tool for her own survival. This gets slightly better as Nicole adapts to her new environment, but she never becomes admirable or even likable. Bungie is completely odious and Sam has no personality whatsoever.

As for the plot, it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s outlandish, not very interesting, and seemingly pointless. Nicole tries to help the Ewok creatures fight some other creatures, but she doesn’t (nor does the reader) understand why any of these events are happening. At the very end of the book, one of the other humans on the ship explains things to Nicole and we finally understand what’s going on… and it’s kind of silly. By this point Nicole has made a major mistake that endangers all of humanity — a mistake she would have avoided if that guy had just bothered to explain things to her much sooner. I really hate that plot device — when a character endangers all of humanity because they’re not given an important piece of information that there was no need to conceal. (Aside: I believe I have used a phrase similar to “endangers all of humanity” in at least three reviews during the last couple of months.)

Tantor Audio sent me a review copy of Pawn and its sequel, Knight. Joel Richards gives a nice performance. I already have Knight loaded up on my phone, so I’ll give it a try and hope this story gets better. It has a long way to go, though…

Published in 2017. Nicole Lee’s life is going nowhere. No family, no money, and stuck in a relationship with a thug named Bungie. But, after one of Bungie’s “deals” goes south, he and Nicole are whisked away by a mysterious moth-like humanoid to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Once aboard, life on the ship seems too good to be true. All she has to do is work on one of the ship’s many maintenance crews. However, she learned long ago that nothing comes without a catch. When she’s told to keep quiet and stop asking questions, she knows she is on to something. Nicole soon discovers that many different factions are vying for control of the Fyrantha, and she and her friends are merely pawns in a game beyond their control. But, she is tired of being used, and now Nicole is going to fight.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.