September 25, 2002

An Exchange of Hostages, by Susan R. Matthews

This is the story of a young nobleman named Andrej Koscuisko. He's a member of the nobility on one of the planets of a star empire called the Jurisdiction. As the name implies, power in the Jurisdiction is held by the judiciary rather than by an executive or legislative body. The Bench's decisions are enforced by the Fleet. Trial for criminal wrong-doing is by inquisition, accompanied by torture; the point of the torture is twofold, to elicit confessions and to deter other criminals. As a result, the Jurisdiction is always in need of skilled inquisitors.

Due to the practical difficulties involved in using torture as a way of gathering information, it's required that all inquisitors have medical training. It so happens that our hero recently graduated first in his class from the best medical school in the Jurisdiction. His father (for reasons that are never explained) has insisted that he go to Fleet Medical Orientation Station, there to learn how to be an inquisitor/torturer. The book covers the time he spends in training.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It kept me reading, and there are many interesting, well-drawn characters; Andrej's personal development through the course of the book is particularly well described.

But.... there are many extremely unpleasant scenes. This is not a book for the squeamish. Only my concern for the characters kept me reading.

But.... The folks in charge of the Orientation Station are portrayed as being kind, thorough, decent men and women who truly care about their charges, low and high...and yet they have dedicated their lives to training torturers. Why?

But.... after chapters of extremely painful material, the book just kind of ends. There's no satisfactory resolution; young Andrej simply goes off to be a torturer.

In short, I fail to see the point of this book. It was undeniably interesting, but after putting up with all the pain I had hoped for a better payoff. Matthews is an author to watch, but I can't recommend this particular book. Unless, that is, you like to read detailed descriptions of blood and gore.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 25, 2002 08:10 PM