Stephanie watched the intruder vanish with a sense of wonder which only grew as the creature disappeared. It was small, she thought—no more than sixty or seventy centimeters long, though its tail would probably double its body length... The celery snatcher might look like a teeny-tiny hexapuma, yet that net was proof the survey crews had missed the most important single facet of Sphinx. But that was all right. In fact, that was just fine. Their omission had abruptly transformed this world from a place of exile to the most marvelous, exciting place Stephanie Harrington could possibly have been, for she’d done something tonight which had happened only eleven other times in the fifteen centuries of mankind’s diaspora to the stars.

She’d just made first contact with a tool-using, clearly sentient, alien race.

Stephanie Harrington, the many-times over great-grandmother of Honor Harrington, is 12-terran-years-old and frustrated. Her family has freshly relocated from the major planet of Meyerdahl to the relatively uninhabited planet Sphinx in the Manticore system—well, uninhabited by humans, but home to a number of species of dangerous alien wildlife. Sphinx’s relatively small human population wouldn’t be a problem if Stephanie were allowed to explore the woods surrounding her new home or if her parents weren’t so busy working all the time, but alas, she’s placed under house arrest alone.

Book Smugglers pay homage to Frances Hardinge.

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Left to her own devices, Stephanie decides to tackle a seemingly innocuous mystery—celery stalks are disappearing from greenhouses all over the planet—and takes it upon herself to catch the intrepid thieves. What she finds, however, will change everything: an intelligent, tool-wielding, feline species. More than that, this new ‘treecat’ species is eloquently telepathic and can form bonds with humans—like the one that forms between Stephanie and her celery thief, a treecat whom she names Lionheart (but is known as Climbs Quickly to his kind).

Stephanie’s discovery, though marvelous, comes with dire consequences for the treecats. The hotly contested creatures are pursued by greedy politicians, unscrupulous scientists and humans who mistakenly think of the ‘cute’ treecats as pets and not a sentient species. Climbs Quickly’s clan is also wary of the two-legs that have taken over their planet and the danger they could present for the treecat population overall. It is up to Stephanie, her family, Climbs Quickly and his allies within the treecat clan to define the bond between the two species protect the future for generations to come.

I have a major confession to make: I have never read an Honor Harrington book. Before A Beautiful Friendship, in fact, I’d never read a David Weber title. This is a horrid deficiency in my SFF reading, worthy of gasps of indignation and chucked rotted produce. BUT, fellow science fiction fans, let me assure you this is a deficiency that I intend to rectify immediately because Weber’s A Beautiful Friendship, the first in a new prequel series set in the Honorverse, is freakin’ fantastic.

I can safely say that A Beautiful Friendship is an excellent crossover science-fiction yarn that offers something for everyone—adventure-seekers, fans of political and military science fiction, animal lovers, young readers yearning for a central pair of awesome heroes. Weber gives precocious heroine Stephanie and treecat hero Climbs Quickly strong voices that are as fantastically engaging as they are clearly distinct—Stephanie with her impetuousness and passion, Climbs Quickly with his more seasoned and wary instincts. I love that A Beautiful Friendship shows not just the human side of the ensuing tensions, but treecat politics and interactions as well. The different treecat clans, customs and mores are all fascinating; for all that Climbs Quickly and his ilk are six-legged telepaths, treecats are not that different from the two-legged humans who have taken to their home planet. As the stakes get higher over the course of this first novel—with a whole universe of books involving the descendents of Stephanie and Climbs Quickly spanning distant star systems to come—I cannot wait to see where Weber steers this pair of unlikely friends next.

Even though I’m just discovering the Honorverse, I can safely say that Stephanie and Climbs Quickly are wholly deserving ancestors of Honor and Nimitz. Bring it on, Fire Season.

In Book Smugglerish, a resounding 8 out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can find also find them at Twitter.