________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 35. . . .May 15, 2015


The Occasional Diamond Thief.

J. A. McLachlan.
Calgary, AB: Edge, 2015.
291 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-77053-075-1.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


In the daylight it no longer looks so ominous. It's just a commonplace little sack with a small, hard object inside it.

I have to use my teeth to untie the leather cords that hold it shut. The thin cords are dry and rough in my mouth, and when I finally work them loose they still hold the shape of the knot. Reaching inside with my thumb and forefinger, I feel a jagged stone the size of a marble. I pull it out and drop it onto my palm. The sun hits it, and I gasp in disbelief. It is stunningly, frighteningly beautiful.

The stone is clear and brilliant, like the diamond in Owegbe's wedding band, except that this one is ten times the size of hers. It has a brilliant circle of darkness at the core, as though I am staring straight into the sun. Light shimmers across this dark center like lightning in the night sky, and shoots out through the surrounding diamond in a rainbow of colours. I stare at it, mesmerized.

And quickly close my fingers tight around it. I look down at my closed fist for a while, before I pick up the pouch and slip the stone back inside. How did my father come by such a thing? And why didn't he tell anyone about it?

He was hallucinating, his sentences disjointed, when he talked to me. "It's yours" was clear enough, but who did he think he was talking to? I shiver, remembering his intense stare, just above my head, as though he was looking at someone behind me. Just thinking about it makes me turn and look over my shoulder.

"Sariah," he said. A word or a name? Either way, I've never heard it before. And he called it... what? A heart? Someone's heart? None of it makes sense, because he wasn't making sense. He was dying. I close my eyes. That's a word that doesn't make any sense. How can I live with that word?

The pouch slips out of my hand. I open my eyes and look down at it. What should I do with the diamond? If I show it to anyone, they'll ask where I got it. Then Owegbe will find out I spoke to Father, that I broke my promise and spoke Malemese, and she'll blame me for his death.

She's right. I did kill him. I spoke Malemese, knowing I shouldn't, and it was too much for him to bear, just as the doctor warned me. He warned me and I did it anyway

I lean sideways just before the spray of vomit spews from my mouth, and then I heave and heave, unable to stop. When nothing more will come out I spit onto the ground, trying to clear the taste from my mouth with saliva. I grab a handful of weeds and wipe my mouth, then grab a fresh handful and chew on the stems until their bitter flavor drowns out the other.

The pouch is lying on the ground, like a written confession. I scoop it up. No one knows about it or the diamond, I think with relief. And then I think: no one knows my father had it, or that he gave it to me. They'll think I stole it.

Would they put me in jail?

My hand tightens around the pouch. Not if they don't know.


Kia is a 16 year old with a natural talent for languages who is studying to be a translator. A strange series of events takes her to the distant planet of Malem as translator for Agatha, a Select of the O.U.B. sent there to carry out her church's mission. Kia is understandably unhappy about this adventure since it was on Malem that her father caught the virus which eventually killed him. And it was on Malem that her father found or stole the diamond which he gave to Kia as he lay on his deathbed. If Kia travels to the planet, she may have the opportunity to find the rightful owner and return the diamond, although this means giving up the only link she now has with her father. However if she is caught with the diamond in her possession, she will face the strict and terrible Malemese justice system.

      J. A. McLachlan creates a detailed and interesting science fiction world in her novel. Malem is very different from Kia's home planet of Seraffa and understandably the people and their customs are also unusual. McLachlan places her readers in these strange new worlds and makes these worlds absolutely normal and believable. Details of topography and weather, of clothing and transportation, make the planets realistic.

     The science fiction setting of the novel takes a back seat to the characters. Kia is strong and determined and tough. Not only is she skilled at languages, but she has other abilities, such as picking locks and stealing. How else is a girl supposed to finance postsecondary education, after all? Kia is feisty and yet also has moments of indecision and uncertainty. Readers watch her learn more about herself as the novel goes on, and she is far more mature at the end of the book.

     The second major character is the Select, Agatha. Superficially, she seems the polar opposite of Kia. She is willing to obey orders and presents a calm and thoughtful persona to the world. However, we find that she, too, will take risks particularly when it comes to caring for and helping those less fortunate. The two female lead characters complement each other nicely, and, despite their differences, it is easy to understand the deep friendship which evolves between them.

     While McLachlan sets her story in an unworldly setting, the events and problems are entirely human. On an individual level, readers see Kia dealing with feeling misunderstood by others in her family, particularly her mother. As well, she often is unsure whom to trust and has to rely on her own resources despite having fears and misgivings. Social problems on far flung planets are not so different from our own here on earth. McLachlan includes both politicians and religious leaders in her novel, and we see the consequences of too much power and the accompanying greed. There are also interplanetary issues: Malem has plenty of water, but its citizens are unwilling to share with their neighbouring planet which suffers from constant problems caused by drought.

     The Occasional Diamond Thief is a science fiction novel both for those who love the genre and for those who are less keen since the science fiction aspect is only one facet of the book. Mystery, adventure, relationships and even the hint of a love story make this a fast moving and very readable young adult novel. McLachlan includes them all, and the result is a well written, exciting, intriguing and terrific story.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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