The chosen one is a common theme in the science fiction and, of course, fantasy. Usually, it’s Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, Aragorn returning to confront Sauron, Luke Skywalker finding out he is a powerful Jedi in waiting. (Or his father letting his ego condemn him to life with a walking CPAP and bacta tank naps.)
Seldom is it the chosen one saying, “Screw this, I’m outta here!”
That’s how Cadicle begins. Amy DuBoff’s chosen one is Cristoph Sietinen, heir to a corporate dynasty on Tararia, an Earth-like world at the center of a sprawling empire and controlled by a mysterious Priesthood. The Priesthood is not well-liked. They control everything, including the dynasties, and by his sixteenth birthday, Cristoph has had enough. He ditches his life and flees for the anonymous life of a starship navigator. Things go well for a year before the Priesthood tries to kill him. Only “Cris Sights” as he is now known, defends himself by slipping into subspace and slowing time. He knew he was telepathic, maybe telekinetic, but this? It’s enough to draw him into the Tararian Selective Service (TSS), the telepathic intelligence and military wing of Tararia. Over time, Cris learns of a secret war with a humanoid race of telepaths called the Bakzen and discovers, to his horror, that he is the penultimate product of selective breeding to produce the ultimate telepath. Got it? Good, because I had to spoil most of Book I to set this up.
Duboff’s series really focuses on Cris’s son Wil, a gifted, almost Doogie Howzer-like telepath who is a junior TSS agent by his mid-teens. When the Bakzen manage to kidnap him, he learns who they really are, the nature of the war, and what his ultimate purpose is. He is not happy upon his return, and only a chance encounter with a rather talented student from Earth named Saera provides any relief.
Book I could stand on its own, and it leaves the reader wondering about Cris’s career. However, that’s all setup for Books II and III, which focus on Wil and Saera, who appear destined to become the series’s power couple. (There are seven books in this series, plus a prequel and a handful of related novellas.) Although the first book borrows heavily from the two Star franchises – There are recognizable tropes from both Star Wars and Star Trek – it makes for a better setup than jumping straight into Wil’s life where he’s already powerful before we even see him. Where Book I succeeds is in how real Cris’s journey comes across. He spends a year navigating on a freighter with a gruff captain named Tom, who could probably support his own series. The last half is his trying to walk a tightrope with Kate, who, like Cris, comes from a dynasty, but has no clue who Cris really is.
So when Book II begins, Cris and Kate have united their houses and been married for several years. We dive into Wil’s story with a harrowing journey to the Bakzen. They’re an interesting race of clones, differentiated mainly by scars and as proud of their genetic lines as some humans are of their clans and tribes. The Bakzen are a rage-filled race who blame humans for their creation. They know of Wil’s coming. It’s been a Dune-like project for the dull, monotone Priesthood since hostilities broke out centuries ago. But Wil doesn’t want to be the savior of the human race. By sixteen, he already knows he’s destined to command the TSS in the final battle with the Bakzen and already knows the horrors that will entail.
DuBoff skillfully fleshes out her universe’s technology and politics without overwhelming the readers. The Tararian swearing is rather odd. Characters will freely drop the occasional F bomb (Very occasional), but say “shite,” yet use “stars” instead of “God” when muttering oaths. I listened to this on audio and caught myself in traffic saying “Stars!” when something surprised me. That’s more a tribute to Josh Bloomberg’s narration than DuBoff’s writing. Bloomberg, for the most part, stays out of DuBoff’s way when reading.
Overall, this was a decent scifi thriller, and clearly part of a larger arc. DuBoff teases out the details instead of throwing everything at you at once. She’s written a three-part page-turner.