In this sci-fi debut, a graduate student’s ability to speak an alien language makes her essential to the prospective alliance between humans and the extraterrestrials.
Avery Alcott was born in 1993, the same year Earth had first contact with the humanoid Vardeshi. But the peaceful aliens left shortly after arrival, offering the vague reason that humans were “a volatile race.” More than two decades later, Avery’s professor Dr. Alistair Sawyer at a California graduate school offers her a unique opportunity. Having spent years translating the Vardeshi’s native tongue from various recordings, Sawyer teaches it to Avery. When the Vardeshi subsequently return, Avery is the primary choice for a cultural exchange. In fact, she won’t merely be living among them; she becomes a low-ranking member of their fleet for a one-year, round-trip journey to their home planet, Vardesh Prime. Acclimating to the Vardeshi aboard the ship, Pinion, is strenuous: It takes time for Avery to master nuances of language and customs. But the ship’s commander, Khavi Vekesh, isn’t interested in exchanging cultures, as he orders others not to converse in English with Avery. It’s soon clear someone on Pinion opposes a human/Vardeshi partnership and enacts a dastardly scheme to ensure its failure. In her series opener, Pechenick aptly parallels the human/alien relationship with the real-life diversity of world cultures. For example, in this book there are some, including certain groups on Earth, who protest the alliance while Avery strives to immerse herself in Vardeshi traditions without losing her own. The story’s steady pace meticulously develops characters, such as Zey Takheri; he shares the same low rank as Avery and becomes a loyal friend to the often lonely woman. Along with a touch of suspense (a threat to the ship and crew near the end), there’s humor: The aliens’ initial visit ultimately produced Vardeshi-obsessed fans, called Vaku, as well as popular Vardramas on TV. Though the narrative is predominantly in English, the author adds a few choice Vardeshi words and includes a glossary.
Thoroughly enthralling, thanks to humanity’s representative—a perceptive, tireless protagonist.