Treecat Wars is the third installment of the Star Kingdom series, a young adult collaboration between David Weber and Jane M. Lindskold that is set in Weber’s celebrated Honor Harrington universe. Young Stephanie Harrington is the first human ever to be adopted by a treecat named Lionheart, one of the sentient telepathic six-limbed predators on the recently colonized planet of Sphinx. It turns out that alien adoption does not shield a young woman from the trials and experiences of growing up, but it does place her in the middle of a fascinating series of events concerning her extended family (human and not) and their world.
Lindskold and Weber’s third collaborative novel expands right along with Stephanie Harrington’s fifteen-year-old world. I was pleased to see Treecat Wars take a non-human character to carry one of the main plot arcs on his own. This is a rare treat in science fiction writing, where aliens mostly exist in the form of their human interactions. They exist to inform, reflect, or (in the case of Star Trek’s irritating Vulcans or the idealized aboriginals in Avatar) condemn humanity comparison with their perfection. Treecat Wars is a step for the Star Kingdom series towards a mature storyline of its own as opposed to a YA taste of the more adult military sci-fi series. Pressed to the brink of survival by the fires of last novels, even the treecats have to deal with conflict, suspicion, and the grief of loss. The series depends on the idea that treecats are real people, every bit as intelligent and capable as the humans who have come to share their world. It is one thing to state that nonhuman characters are just as much people as the human ones. It is another thing entirely to rest your primary conflict on their shoulders.
Treecat Wars is not properly military sci-fi, but it continues the pleasant coming-of-age drama from the previous two novels. Stephanie and Karl head off-world for advanced training to be forest Rangers, which gives a nice preview of Landing, the Star Kingdom’s capital. Going away to college, even for a few months, is a big change. The human drama is lower key but touching and true to life. The Sphinx kids are growing up, learning more about who they are and what they want in life, and then how to deal with those changes while staying true to their friends and other commitments. Buyer reviews have knocked the book for the mundane drama and romantic conflict, but I disagree. Stories of war are bright and vibrant, but one reason war matters is so that the people behind the stories can live safe and free. I love the fact that Weber’s universe tells the story of the people worth fighting for, and how the heroes of later wars got the world that they grew up in.
Lindkold and Weber have a tighter prose than Weber uses alone. Lindkold’s influence brings a faster pace, and brings Weber back to the empathic relational awareness that made On Basilisk Station and Honor of the Queen two of my favorite novels. This is a winning team and I look forward to the next installment in the series.