At twelve Colleen Cavanaugh’s family was the richest on her planet. By thirteen almost all her family were dead and the Derichet aliens occupied her planet. Some people are conscripted as slave labour, while those working in factories refining the mineral that fuels their spacecraft are paid, but conditions are poor. There are some aliens who treat people as well as they can, but most take advantage, sometimes in very unpleasant ways, although as Shattered Warrior is a young adult story these are shown without conclusion. Because she’s lost everyone she cared for Colleen’s mantra is never to care for anyone, but that’s about to change.

Sharon Shinn’s plot is smart. Initially establishing how life is under the aliens, she then reveals that for the poor at least, it was hardly any better when Colleen’s family were rich and privileged. The path of Colleen finding her spirit and emerging from her self-imposed emotional isolation is predictable enough, but additional emotional complexity spurs the story and supplies the tension.

This is well portrayed by Molly Knox Ostertag, who keeps the art simple, but detailed in conveying a world in decay where hope is evaporating, yet also contrasts that with the glamour of the world before, at least in Colleen’s case. Ostertag does this by switching style, defining people without black ink outlines, and immaculately shows how they feel at any given point, a master of the meaningful glance. Much of Shattered Spirit is told without words, yet readers can fully understand what’s happening.

As well as stressing social inequality, Shinn frames aspects of her story in myth, drawing parallels Colleen is too close to see, and once Colleen is established as a sympathetic figure, Shinn cleverly escalates the dangers in her life. The lesson learned is that someone can try all they like to suppress their emotions, but true feelings and character emerge, this given a trial run with a different person early in the book, before flourishing with Colleen and her friend Jann.

Adventure, suspense and heartbreak with a strong emotional core is sustained until the end. Shattered Spirit reads very well in isolation, but leaves the door open for a sequel. It would be very welcome.