I mentioned Stray, the first in the Touchstone trilogy, in an earlier post. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much as I've not had the best of luck with YA books recently, but Stray hooked my attention and kept it.
Young Cassandra Devlin has just taken her final exams and is thinking about university as she heads home one afternoon; she suddenly finds herself alone, lost, and confused. Somehow, she has ended up on another planet, passed through some kind of portal to another world.
It takes Cassandra a while to come to terms with her situation, to admit that she isn't "lost" in the typical sense, but when she does, she takes stock of the few items she has in her backpack, determined to survive. A diary, bought as a birthday gift for a friend, turns out to be a perfect way for her to record and sort through her emotions and experiences on the uninhabited world in which she finds herself. The diary provides a way to process her thoughts and her goals; it becomes a companion.
At first, the plot appears to be a sort of Robinson Crusoe adventure, and I'm fond of this kind of plot about how people survive when they find themselves in isolated circumstances without modern technology. Cass has to find fresh water, discover what plants are edible, and survive in an unfamiliar environment. Trekking through the landscape, Cass comes up with ways to cope. She hopes for rescue, but finds no evidence of human occupation, even when she comes to a town that has been long abandoned. Aware that her solitary situation may be permanent, Cass is grateful to at least have shelter and devotes herself to preparation for a long stay.
Eventually, however, Cassandra is rescued by Setari (a group with strong psychic talents that defends the world of Tare); the Setari squad have come to check out threats on the planet Muina. They take Cass back to their home planet, and the plot begins to turn into the experiences of a refugee or displaced person in another world, an alien (but human) society. Another interesting plot line, the idea of being a foreigner in a strange new world, but then...
another twist. Cassandra isn't a typical "stray." She has an ability to alter some of the psychic powers of that the society possesses, enhancing some and distorting others. She becomes a lab rat (her term), but one that is mostly treated benignly as the scientists try to understand her influence.
Cass is a wonderful character. She whines some, but always gets on with the situation. She is no super-hero, although she is being trained by what she calls "psychic ninjas"; she is homesick and lonely, but realizes that she must get on with her life as well as she can for the time being. The secondary characters begin to come alive as well, and I found myself adjusting pretty quickly to the unusual names.
The world building is exceptionally well done for the most part, although I had to take certain things on a vague faith. The "near spaces" and gates were never quite clear, but all else in the world(s) Cassandra must occupy feel remarkably real.
I loved the internet language, the comments about television shows and movies and book characters, and the contemporary and historic Earth references Cassandra makes as she tries to explain things to herself. There is humor, danger, suspense, relationship-building, and more. Character-driven with lots of strong female characters and great fun! And free on Amazon. Try it!
Unable to wait, I had to get Lab Rat immediately. The adventures continue, the characters develop, and I couldn't leave this world if I tried--figuratively speaking. Cass's abilities increase and her dream sequences become dangerous. The re-opening of Muina and all that exploring and re-settling a world entails kept getting more interesting.
As soon as I finished, I ordered Caszandra, which was both longer and slower than the first two books. The final book, while I wouldn't have missed it, is actually the weakest in the series. The additional length would have been fine, but the pacing was off.
I certainly want to read more of Host's work because this series succeeded in so many ways and was a pleasure to read.
Science Fiction. 2011.