I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I started this book. I’m not a huge science fiction reader—if only because the science part usually goes completely over my head—but I liked the sound of this blurb and I had been lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the first chapter, so even if I didn’t know exactly what it would be, I did know I had to read the rest.
And I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and found myself hooked right into it shortly after starting the book. It wasn’t long at all before I was on Castor, with James, probably because the story we read is one he has written down and he occasionally addresses his readers directly.
I liked the honesty of James. We meet a scared sixteen-year old, completely out of his depth in almost every aspect of his life, but somehow managing to not only keep it all together but also to survive. I liked that we were allowed to see his selfish thoughts as well has his generous ones. James is no super hero, he has no secret weapons or skills to help him survive the war—he’s a gardener after all. But he does have a deep rooted will to live and a heart that won’t let him deny his feelings. I guess what I’m trying to say is, James as a teenager was, for me at least, completely believable and recognisable.
Although there is a love story in Castor, I wouldn’t describe the book as a romance. While the love between James and Vidal certainly plays a part in the story, their developing relationship isn’t the focus of it; that role is reserved for the oppressive regime James and the other indentured slaves labour under and the uprising against it, not to mention James' growth as he deals with it all. And if I have a complaint, it is rooted here. I would have loved to have gotten to know Vidal better. While James was an open book to me by the time I finished Castor, Vidal remained somewhat vague, undefined almost.
There were other elements to this book I liked; a friendship lasting even when conviction and choices put two young men on opposing sides, for example. Or the fact that the back story touches very closely, although not glaringly, on an international situation we’re facing for real right now. This book made me wonder how far I would be prepared to go to save my child; a question I’m still pondering, hours later. And I do like a book that makes me think. And finally, I’m rather impressed that the author managed to show me Castor in enough detail that I could picture it, without ever overfeeding me details.
So, very long story short; I thoroughly enjoyed this very strong debut novel. I’m impressed by the confidence with which it was written, the depth of the story, and the vividness of James as a character. I’m also very curious to see what Shaun Young might bring us next.