Review: An Exchange of Hostages by Susan R. Matthews

Monday, January 2, 2012
Genre: science fiction, fantasy
Series: #1 Jurisdiction, first of four written, seven planned
Pages: 372 ( mass market paperback version)
Published: April 1997 by AvoNova
Rating: 4/5
Source: Bought

A promising young surgeon, Andrej Koscuisko has come, with great reluctance, to study at a military orientation center adrift in black space. Against his will, he will train here to serve as a "Ship's Inquisitor" — a vocation that runs counter to his deepest moral convictions.

During his tenure, Andrej will earn the devotion of his personal slave. He will gain the grudging respect of the Station Administration. He will make a deadly enemy of his fellow student. He will learn a frightening truth about himself. And ultimately, he will be forced to sacrifice all that he holds dear...

Author Biography: After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, Susan R. Matthews was commisioned into the United States Army, where she was the operations and security officer for a combat support hospital specializing in nuclear, biological, and radiological warfare. Currently working as an auditor for an aerospace manufacturer, Susan lives with her partner in Seattle, Washington.

 The premise of this book is very intriguing. A young man, Andrej Koscuisko, is bound by familial duty to become Ship's Inquisitor, using his medical skills to learn the fine art of torture. Andrej, however, is a healer, and must deal with the disturbing reality of going against all that he believes. Add to that interpersonal struggles and military politics, and you've got a hell of an idea for a story.

As a work of fiction, this book let me break An Exchange of Hostages down in parts. The writing style took time to get used to and required concentration just to avoid rereading. Because of this, I had to gradually sink into the story instead of eating it up, which is my reading preference.

An Exchange of Hostages certainly provided an... interesting... character study. Andrej's character, as the protagonist, was well fleshed out. Matthews uses Andrej to demonstrate the layers of a complex personality under stresses most of us could not comprehend, and she does a good job of it. There were a few moments, however, when even I was disgusted and horrified by what Andrej was capable of. While the horrors of his situation and the ways he learned to deal with them were central to developing his character, some readers may be turned off by the extent to which Matthews went in realizing his character so fully.

Mergau Noycannir, Andrej's fellow Student, was my least favorite character. At first, I found myself relating to her ambition if not her attitude. Her background as a kid from unfortunate circumstances who has to work for everything she has gives her a dose of humanity that her character desperately needs. As she goes through the story, however, she loses even that small piece of likeability, and by the end I loathed every thought she had.

As a piece of dystopian literature, this book did not disappoint. I was frightened by this culture, more so because it seemed very relevant. The politics of militaristic society were three-dimensional and very well realized. Other than the known fact that torture doesn't result in reliable information, this type of Bench-run society could be in our future. And in some ways, that fact about torture is part of the horror of this book- all a prisoner has to do is mention your name under interrogation and you're FUCKED. Trial by Advanced Level, saved for the worst crimes supposedly committed, results in your death whether you're guilty or not. Or perhaps I've got that wrong- that was just the impression I got. Perhaps other books in the series will deal with false charges.

I know I'm definitely looking forward to continuing this story. Overall, it was worth the read and is a thought-provoking journey into a deranged society that may just have a warning for our own.

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