Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2

The Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2

PJ Haarsma
Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Candlewick, 2008   ISBN: 978-0763627102

In most places, an individual who prevents a war from breaking out would, at the very least, be treated with some degree of respect, but this is not how life is on Orbis. If you are not a Citizen, and if you are a “knudnik,” you cannot expect to be treated decently. So, even though Johnny did indeed prevent a war, he is returned to his Guarantor, Weegin, to resume his life as a slave.

Life is actually not too bad with Weegin for a while, and then the alien decides to recoup his financial loses by selling Johnny and the other human children he was given. He is not allowed to do this, but Weegin takes Johnny and the other children to Orbis 2 and he is about to sell them all, when the place they are in experiences some kind of earth tremor.

Later, Johnny learns that the tremors were created by a Samarian, a large aquatic alien being who is living in an enormous tank on Orbis 2. The being, Toll, serves the people of Orbis, having traded his freedom long ago to save his people on his home planet. Very soon, Toll will complete his term of ‘employment’ on Orbis 2 and he will be freed. At least that is what is supposed to happen.

When it is discovered that Johnny can communicate with Toll, he is given a new job working for the Samarian caretaker, Odran. Johnny and the other children he is with are given to Odran, who is an ever worse Guarantor than Weegin was. Odran hates the humans, and he does everything he can to make their lives as difficult as possible.

When Johnny finally gets the chance to talk to Toll, he finds out why the huge alien is upset. Toll knows full well that the beings in charge on Orbis care only about having money and power. They are so corrupt and greedy that they are quite willing to break their promise to Toll in keep him enslaved on Orbis 2 forever. Toll’s mate has discovered that she is going to have a child, so Toll is determined to make sure that the promise made to him is honored.

Though Johnny and Toll have so little in common, Johnny understands how the alien feels. They are both knudniks, slaves who are used until they are no longer useful. Somehow, Johnny has to do something to help Toll and his mate. Somehow, he has to do something so that their child will not be forced to become a knudnik.

In this extraordinary second Softwire title, we learn more about the world Johnny and his friends now live on. We discover that the beauty and wealth of Orbis is based on the slave labor of thousands of beings, and we see how Johnny comes to understand that the only way he can really be free is to fight for what is right.

With powerful themes and colorful characters, this title is both interesting and entertaining.