Book Review - The Occasional Diamond Thief

I received The Occasional Diamond Thief by J A McLachlan from LibraryThing as part of the Early Reviews program.


Here's the summary from Amazon:
On his deathbed, Kia's father discloses a secret to her alone: a magnificent and unique diamond he has been hiding for years. Fearing he stole it, she too keeps it secret. She learns it comes from the distant colonized planet of Malem, where her father caught the illness that eventually killed him. Now she is even more convinced he stole it, as it is illegal for any off-worlder to possess a Malemese diamond. When 16-yr-old Kia is training to be a translator, she is co-opted by a series of events into travelling as a translator to Malem. Using her skill in languages and another skill she picked up after her father's death, the skill of picking locks - she unravels the secret of the mysterious gem and learns what she must do to set things right: return the diamond to its original owner. But how will she find out who that is when no one can know that she, an off-worlder, has a Malemese diamond? And how can she bear to part with this last link to her father? Kia is quirky, with an ironic sense of humour and a loner. Her sidekick, Agatha, is hopeless in languages and naive to the point of idiocy in Kia's opinion, but possesses the wisdom and compassion Kia needs.

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When I first started reading this book, I was figuring that I wasn't going to like it much. Not because of the description, but because it's written in first person present tense. I tend to avoid first person books in general because I have a hard time connecting to those characters. Not many writers can pull it off and have a character who doesn't come off as perfect or self-centered or just plain annoying, and adding present tense into the mix? It has the potential to be a disaster.

Well, I was wrong. Incredibly wrong. McLachlan pulls off this writing style with grace and skill and I immediately found myself entranced by the story. Kia is a well-rounded and developed character. Yes, she has moments where she acts a little "know it all", but it was entirely accurate for the character: she's sixteen. Kia acts like a teenager, but more than that, she acts like a real person. Another thing I notice in first person books is that the non-main characters tend to not get a lot of development. McLachlan avoided this, too! This story had a few secondary and tertiary type characters who aren't around long enough to get the depth of the main character, but they didn't feel flat. The other main character, Agatha, was just as developed as the POV character. I loved how she didn't fit quite in with the other Selects (priest/esses, essentially) and that even though her personality clashed with Kia's, they were able to work together in a way that was believable and interesting.

I was so afraid when the author introduced not one, but two fairly jerk-ish boy characters that this book was going to turn into one of those YA books where the female protagonist inevitably falls for the obnoxious male character who never seems to have any redeeming qualities. Well, I wasn't disappointed there, either! Two thumbs up for McLachlan and how she approached the character in the "love interest" role.

And the world building! I love a book with lots of world building and this one had that! Not one but three cultures were mentioned with a fair amount of depth and I found myself itching to know more about the planets and cultures. The information about the cultures was never dropped in obtrusively and blended well into the narrative. I loved that the plot went beyond the personal experiences of the main character to involve the politics of the different planets. I'm not even a huge fan of sci-fi (I prefer fantasy) and I loved this. Then again, it wasn't an excessive amount of science fiction. What was there peppered the culture Kia comes from with detail to pull you into the world. Later in the book she was on a planet with very little technology, so it read more like something modern than futuristic. Even the beginning of the book, though, is the kind of sci-fi I like: enough to give you some bearing as to the character's surroundings and the technology, but not so heavy that you're bogged down with techno-babble. Writing out this review, I'm realizing that McLachlan truly does have a good balance of everything in this book.

As an aside, I got a kick out of the bit at the end written by Kia. "Occasional" indeed.

This was a book I didn't want to put down. It had everything I could want in a book: developed characters, thought-out world building, enough action to keep things interesting without hurting the dialogue and character development... Five stars and two thumbs up from me, along with a "would recommend" and "will read the rest of the series". (Please tell me there will be more books!)

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