Prisoners break free in an extraordinary ship powerful enough to hunt pirates and stop innocents from becoming slaves in the first of Goodson’s (Dark Soul Silenced, 2013, etc.) sci-fi series.
Sixteen-year-old Jess was born in captivity. But he has a chance to escape when he and fellow prisoners Matt and Sal step onto a ship to check it for booby traps. Bolts of electricity inside the vessel knock off the trio’s control collars, and they take the opportunity to run. Strangely, the ship, named the Wanderer, responds to Jess’ touch, allowing the group a clean getaway. The Wanderer fixes a “web of strands” to Jess and ultimately links to him without a physical connection. As ship captain, the teenager answers a distress call, and after he destroys a menacing Imperial craft, a number of passengers join Jess, Matt, and Sal. But some of those people may have taken others against their wills. Jess returns children to their homes, or stations, but is surprised by a shocking attack followed by a devastating betrayal. It seems everyone wants the Wanderer, especially those who witness the ship’s speed and ferocity. Jess and his remaining allies duck out on Washington (the planet), near a mining complex that’s a base for illicit activities like slave trading. They plan to infiltrate a band of criminals and liberate its bevy of prisoners. The fast-paced novel kicks the action into high gear; the opening chase with absconding prisoners is followed by numerous battle scenes in the Wanderer. Romance between Jess and rescued Ali happens almost immediately, like a YA story, while the never-been-kissed hero blushes quite often. Nevertheless, Jess and the ship’s relationship remains unquestionably engrossing. He essentially acts as the Wanderer’s conscience, bringing its mind to life—which explains his phenomenal piloting skills. The story’s a little derivative of other works, particularly Star Wars: the prime baddies are collectively the Empire, while alien Teeko’s jumbled speech too closely resembles Yoda’s. But Goodson leaves open plenty of plot avenues, including origins for Jess and the Wanderer, to explore in the series’ sequels.
Some of the story covers familiar sci-fi terrain, but laser blasts and galactic pursuits make for a stellar tale.