CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 35. . . .May 15, 2015
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.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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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.
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.