________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008


Monks in Space: Trapped in a Fatal Orbit.

David Jones.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2008.
241 pp., pbk. & hc., $10.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-150-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-151-8.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Caitlin Campbell.

**1/2 /4



The ball of the Sun was already larger than he had ever seen it. This was their benevolent Father, the giver of light and life. But that was only because the Earth traveled at a favored distance. At God's heart was a furnace that had begun devouring itself from the moment of its birth, and would continue to do so for another five billion years. When it had nearly finished, it would swell to many times its present size and consume its closest children, including Earth.

Even now, Bart thought he could see it growing, but he knew that was only because they were hurtling closer to it by the second.


A novice monk and pilot-in-training, 14-year-old Bart lives aboard the spaceship Prominence, home to an order of monks who worship the sun. The monks specialize in pottery and support the monastery by selling their magnificently glazed masterworks for astronomical prices (Hey, spaceships aren't cheap, even in the future.). As a devoted novice, Bart lives a routine existence attending daily rites, honing his ceramic skills, and training with the ship's cynical and secular lush of a captain, Gary. Trouble ensues when the Prominence receives a distress signal from a ship stranded nearby. After the monks rescue and tend to the ship's two occupants, their kindness is repaid when the castaways try to steal some of the monastery's near-priceless pottery. Bart foils the attempt, succumbing to unmonk-like anger and aggression in the process, and the disgruntled and slightly battered thieves are thrown into the ship's brig. As punishment for his violent behavior, Bart is ordered to hold daily prayer sessions outside the two prisoners' cells, and he quickly becomes infatuated with Ruth, a good-natured but manipulative young woman in her early twenties. While Bart tries to subdue his skittish hormones, the Prominence travels closer to the sun. When Gary and Bart try to set a course for Earth, they discover that the ship's engines have failed and that they are stuck speeding directly toward the sun's deadly heat. With only hours to spare, Bart must devise a plan to save the ship and its passengers.

      As its title suggests, David Jones' Monks in Space is an unexpected blend of science fiction and, well, monks. While a medieval monastery ensconced in a futuristic spacecraft is certainly an original setting, the rest of the novel is not as innovative, and hardcore fans of science fiction may find themselves bored. (Monks may, therefore, be better suited to kids with a new interest in the genre.) Up until its thrilling climax—which fortunately takes up a good chunk of the book—Monks is often painfully slow-paced with too many elder monks talking about pottery or chastising Bart. The novel's best moments are the conversations between Bart and Gary, the worldly pilot who does not care for the stoic mentality of the monks and offers Bart an alternative perspective. Bart's relationship with the bandit Ruth is much less interesting and lacks sufficient depth. However, Bart's burgeoning sexuality and the problems it presents for the novice monk are handled deftly and appropriately for the book's target audience. As mentioned above, Monk's climax is wonderfully exciting, and the last 70 pages are nearly impossible to put down.


Caitlin Campbell is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia.

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

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