A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 311
Publisher: Puffin Books

Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are General Matsika’s children. They live in Zimbabwe in 2194. Because the General fears that the children will be kidnapped, they have lived their whole lives inside their father’s mansion. The martial arts instructor visits them every week and other teachers teach them through a holophone. Yet, the children are often bored. One day, they scheme to get outside the house. They want to just go to the nearest city, Harare, to explore a little, and get back before the parents even noticed they’re gone. And they would get the Explorer scout merit badges. With the help of their friend the Mellower, they manage to get out. Unfortunately, their father was right; soon they are kidnapped.

The General has a lot of resources but they aren’t suitable for such small targets as the kids. So, Mrs. Matsika decides to hire the only private detectives left in the country: Ear, Eye, and Arm. The three men are friends and they were born with special abilities because of toxic waste near their village. Ear has enormous ears and can hear accurately from long distances away. Eye has extraordinarily sensitive eyes and Arm has very long and strong arms and legs and he can also sense others’ feelings. They are poor and live in the Cow’s Guts district in Harare. The trio is delighted to finally get some work.

There are three point-of-view characters: Tendai, the oldest of the kids is the main pov character. Arm is another pov character and the kid’s mother is also briefly a pov character. Tendai and the other kids have various adventures and they become rather knowledgeable about the city’s underworld. General Matsika, who is also the country’s leader and chief of police, led a war against the gangs. The gangs have been demolished except for the Masks which is widely feared. However, there seems to be a network of child kidnappers operating in Harare even though they aren’t part of a known gang.

The children see how different their rich upbringing is in comparison to the poor who have almost nothing. We also get a glimpse of Resthaven which is a walled village where the inhabitants live their lives as Africans have lived for millenia. Apparently, some think that this is like living in a paradise, unpolluted by modern things. I guess it can be, as long as you’re a man. For the villages’ girls and women who have to do all the boring and nasty work, are married off too young, and die in childbirth, it looks like a very different world. It seems that the girls are also given deliberately less food that boys. And on top of everything, they are constantly told that they are worthless.

The science fiction elements are rather sparse. The rich have robot servants and use holophones and most people use Nirvana guns which put people to sleep instead of killing them, but otherwise the book could have been set into an alternate now. In fact, the book has more elements from myths than SF. Tendai prays to his ancestors and interprets events as answers to his prayers. Some of the ancient beliefs which are still alive in Resthaven seem to be true. The Mellower has the strange ability to hypnotize others with his voice. Spirit medium is a respected profession and it’s a commonly accepted fact that spirits can and do possess people. Most of the time these spirits are benevolent and can give the possessed valuable skills. This mix was unusual and unexpected in an SF book.

The plot was somewhat repetitive with several escapes and kidnappings but I guess that’s usual for YA. Tendai is easily the most complex of the kids. He’s thirteen and he wants to be a warrior, like his father, but when he tries to even practice violence, he always thinks how his victim would feel. This almost paralyzes him and he’s convinced that he’s a coward. Like all the other kids, he’s spoilt and rather self-centered. Yet, he tries to protect his siblings. Rita is the most short-tempered of the three and is quick to irritate even adults. Kuda is a bit too young to have much personality beyond wanting food and entertainment.