I got this via Audible, during their recent Cyber Monday sale.
Twelve-year-old Stephanie isn't happy that her family has been relocated to the planet Sphinx. It's a dangerous and fairly recently colonized place, so her parents don't feel comfortable about letting her run around on her own all the time. In order to keep her occupied, Stephanie's mother gives her a mystery to solve: missing celery. Greenhouses and gardens all over Sphinx keep getting small amounts of celery stolen from them, and no one's been able to figure out who's been doing it. Stephanie's investigation leads to the discovery of a whole new sentient species, beings she ends up calling “treecats.” She forms an empathic bond with one particular treecat, Climbs Quickly, and becomes a fierce protector of her new friend and his clan.
I'm a fan of “telepathic/empathic animal companion” fantasy and sci-fi. I figured I knew what to expect from this book. Stephanie would go exploring, find and bond with a treecat, and eventually be in a position to save treecats from some sort of danger (which she inadvertently put them in, something I managed to guess only halfway through). And I suppose that's how this story went, but the execution was incredibly boring.
It took a while for Stephanie and Climbs Quickly to meet, but I didn't mind that so much. Since I had never read any of Weber's other Honorverse books, I was happy for whatever background info I could get before the story picked up steam. I loved the scene in the forest, when Stephanie and Climbs Quickly met for the second time and fought side-by-side, and I was looking forward to seeing their bond develop.
That was where things started to go bad, for me. The story skipped forward two years. Repeated references were made to an event in which some treecats were killed and many more were saved, but that event was never shown. A bit of googling tells me that it probably happened in a short story that can be found in the Worlds of Honor anthology, which is good to know, but I still felt cheated as I was listening to A Beautiful Friendship and wondering why this interesting and important event was being completely skipped over.
The book went on and on about things I had trouble caring about, like the specifics of settlement arrangements on Sphinx, background information about several new adult characters, and Stephanie's shooting practice. What I wanted were more adventures and a closer exploration of the deepening bond between Stephanie and Climbs Quickly, not great gobs of exposition. The one thing that kept portions of this book from becoming an absolute snooze-fest was Khristine Hvam's narration – she was pleasant to listen to and did a good job voicing the various characters, although I thought some of her treecat voices were almost cartoonish.
Everywhere I've looked, this book is categorized as YA. However, even if I hadn't already known that most of Weber's books were written for adults, I would have been able to guess it from the way this was written. Adult POVs were used far more often than in most modern YA books, and most of Stephanie's adventures felt either overly brief or very carefully managed by the adults around her.
All in all, A Beautiful Friendship was a bit disappointing, but I still wouldn't mind trying the next book. However, I find that I'm looking forward to Weber's Honorverse books for adults far more than I am the next book in this series.
- Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Another "telepathic/empathic animal companion" book, although the fire lizards aren't as intelligent as the treecats - for that you'd have to look to McCaffrey's dragons. Still, this works better as a YA recommendation, so it's the one I'm listing. Plus, it works on another level, since Menolly, like Stephanie, ends up discovering and bonding with beings no one had ever seen before.
- Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Another "telepathic/empathic animal companion" story, this time with magical horses. I don't think it was originally written for the YA market, but it would probably be fine for older teens.
- The Golden Compass (book) by Philip Pullman - Not exactly an animal companion book, although it has the same sort of feel - in Lyra's world, people's souls take the form of animals. I've written about this book.
- Little Fuzzy (book) by H. Piper Beam - A "first contact" story involving the discovery of little sapient beings. I hadn't realized this book was available for free via Project Gutenberg - I'll have to give it a try. If that version ends up feeling dated, John Scalzi has written a reboot called Fuzzy Nation.