John Barnes is one of the finest science fiction writers of his generation; he mixes an exceptional sense of how societies work with a good grounding in hard science, and casts it all into a dramatic framework of interesting characters and tension-driven plotting. I've never read a book of his I didn't enjoy; indeed, I try and read everything he publishes. This book is a young adult novel, and a good one. John Barnes has clearly read the master of the science fiction young adult novel, Robert Heinlein; much of the social setting for this novel builds off of Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" in particular (the need to perform some service, military or otherwise, to become a full citizen). As a teacher who uses young adult novels throughout the year, I have to say that this novel presents two problems for the young reader: one, Barnes' invention of new words will confuse most young readers whose vocabularies may not be strong enough to recognize which words are real and which invented (there were moments I wasn't sure what his new words inferred, despite a doctorate in English and long decades spent reading science fiction); and two, the novel becomes less and less inventive as the pages turn: in his interests in establishing a series, many characters are introduced and conflicts left unresolved, and the main conflict that is wrapped up is done in a particularly formulaic way. I don't want to say more, because I don't want to give away any plot secrets (and the editorial review above gives a decent plot summary), but I found my own excitement growing less at the moment when it should have been accelerating. All in all, a solid effort, but one that forgets Heinlein's basic principle: all books need to be self-contained to be truly effective. Heinlein himself never violated that principle in his juveniles, and Barnes shouldn't either. The mania for series we find among adult readers has not inserted itself as the dominant trend in young adult readers (although there are series to be found, they are not the dominant form writers for this market mostly follow). That said, I would only recommend this book to a very bright young reader, with a solid vocabulary, who will be willing to put up with an ending that is far too open for its own good.