by P. J. Haarsma
Once again, J.T. and his friends from the seed ship Renaissance are being transfered to a new guarantor. The children are knudniks, indentured servants bound to work for four years on the Rings of Orbis. The guarantor owns their work contract, and in essence, owns them. Having had two bad experiences with their previous guarantors, they fear the worst, but this time, their guarantor turns out to be Charlie, an old friend who has helped them in the past.
Things are looking up: Charlie is kind, they get plenty to eat, and they don't have to work. But Charlie makes them go to school, and while Charlie's intentions are good, as the only knudniks in a school full of citizens, the children face discrimination and bullying.
J.T. has questions that Charlie won't answer, and it becomes apparent that there's more going on than the children realize. Before long, they're drawn into the dark underworld on Orbis, pawns in a larger scheme. Risking their lives may be the only way out.
The Softwire is one of the few true science fiction series out there for kids, and it fills a gap that needed to be filled. This third book has everything that I've come to expect from the series: plenty of danger, excitement, and intrigue, interesting characters, cool aliens and technology, and enough depth to make this more than just an outer space adventure. The first part of the book seems tame by the standards of the other books, as the children face nothing worse than school bullies similar to those found in every school in the universe. As the book goes along, though, there's more than enough excitement and intrigue, as J.T. and his friends once again become involved with the larger problems of Orbis.
There is some tragedy in this book, and also something new for the series: a touch of romance, as the kids get older and some of them start to see each other as more than just friends. I think that these things skew this book slightly older than the other two, although not by much.
I would have loved this series as a teen, and I highly recommend it to anyone of middle-school age and up.