Dangerous Diplomacies

A Review of J.A. McLachlan’s “The Occasional Diamond Thief” (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Occasional Diamond Thief is a tale of things lost and things returned, all within the complex political world of interplanetary trade and cultural conflicts. Kia’s father has been haunted by a past that he has been rapidly forgetting in his dementia. So strongly is his dementia linked to his past that even words spoken in the Malemese language, a language used by a world he visited long ago, can trigger health issues. As his dementia progresses, he lapses into Malemese, unable to speak his own language and only Kia, with her incredible linguistic gifts, is able to speak to him. She does so, at the risk of losing him completely instead of losing him to the slow progression of his disease. Referring to her by a Malemese name she hasn’t heard of before, her father gives her a Malemese diamond, believing he is returning this to its owner and ridding himself of something that has plagued his soul, allowing him to move on. Because she seeks communication with him and speaks Malemese, Kia is rejected from her family, losing all connection to her roots and the system of support she had in place. 

Yet, despite the fact that language is connected to the loss of her father, Kia still sees the potential of language as a place of connection, an opportunity to build bridges between people and develop complex forms of understanding. The only problem is that the language school is expensive, and Kia, believing she is connecting with her father’s secret, criminal profession, a secret suppressed by her family, begins her career as a diamond thief.  

Her career as a diamond thief gets her in trouble with the interplanetary religious authorities, the OUB, who force her to visit the planet that she saw as the catalyst of her father’s destruction and eventual death, Malem.

J.A. McLachlan explores the power of suppression and recovery on an interplanetary scale, a community scale, and on a personal scale for Kia and the people around her. Kia’s linguistic gift is related to the issues of communication that shape the interactions between people in McLachlan’s world, the separations and miscommunications that have meant that planets and people have viewed each other with suspicion and distrust. In Kia’s desire to understand language and its cultural connections, she becomes a figure who collapses distances and allows people to communicate. 

Unlike many intergalactic, interplanetary tales, McLachlan’s story is a highly personal one, shaped fundamentally by character and the character’s exploration of selfhood and interaction on a microcosmic level which has implications for the macrocosmic level. Sometimes even small interactions between people are enough to shape and change universe-spanning political issues. 

Communication means that secrets lose their powers, things lost are returned, and healing happens through the barred gateways opened by the desire to talk and share.

To discover more about The Occasional Diamond Thief, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/occasionaldiamonthief/occasionaldiamonthief-catalog.html

To discover more about the work of J.A. McLachlan, visit her website at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com

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