Alastair Chisholm, Orion Lost

Nosy Crow, 2020, ISBN 978-1788005920

Beth is thirteen. She's on the spaceship Orion, travelling with her parents to Eos Five, a planet twenty-six light years from Earth. Despite the distance, the journey will take just nine months, because the ship can jump vast tracts of space while its passengers are put in a special sleep. It's on one of the jumps that things start to go wrong. Beth is woken from her sleep by Ship, Orion's central interface. Ship tells her that none of the adults on board can be woken, only the children, and that she must be acting captain. When she asks why, she is told she scored highest - by just .5% - in Command Training. She has no choice but to have Vihaan, son of Orion's captain, as her second-in-command, despite difficult communications between them. These two, with four other children, find themselves coping with a major emergency. Orion is very severely damaged. Everyone's lives are at risk, and not just because of the fire that has engulfed important parts of the ship, or the memories that have been wiped, or the equipment that has been destroyed. There are terrifying space pirates not far away, and the alien Videshis too. Beth is terrified, and struggles with her responsibilities. Some of her decisions have disastrous consequences, and conflict flares. Then the dangers multiply. Can there be an enemy within Orion as well as outside?

Orion Lost is a gripping middle-grade sci-fi adventure with a high suspense quotient and numerous twists and turns. Alastair Chisholm has created a great cast of characters. The six protagonists are very believable. All exhibit skill and bravery, but all have fears they don't want the others to see, and all have weaknesses, weaknesses that lead to technical problems and weaknesses that threaten collaboration. Beth's difficulties with her role are particularly well depicted. The book poses important questions about the nature of good leadership, without ever being remotely preachy. This is hard to put down. Recommended.