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Friday, September 20, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Book Review

Machinations of audacious 'Solitaire' ring true

Special to The Seattle Times

Author reading


Kelley Eskridge will read from "Solitaire" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free, 206-634-3400.

In her first novel, "Solitaire" (Eos, $24.95), local author Kelley Eskridge accomplishes two audacious undertakings. She turns on its head the usual adolescent fantasy of being royalty in disguise (i.e. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars). She also gently and firmly contradicts the notion that large corporations are evil incarnate. And she does this using clear, believable descriptions of a not-too-distant future, harrowing situations and psychological insights that would warm the heart of Alice Hoffman.

Heroine Ren "Jackal" Segura grows up the fortunate daughter of high-level executives of Ko, a company so gigantic it's getting its own seat in the world government. Jackal's a star pupil in Ko's internal educational system. She is also Ko's "Hope," one of several special young people born worldwide in the first minute of the world government's reign.

For 22 years, she basks in the privilege accorded her status, anxiously anticipating her assigned role in global politics. Then she learns her birth records have been faked; she's not a Hope, she's just Jackal. Determined not to let the team down, she struggles to maintain her false position until a horrendous accident robs her of friends, family and the all-embracing support of Ko.

Blamed for the accident, convicted as an international terrorist, Jackal accepts an experimental treatment: virtual solitary confinement, using Ko technology. In 10 months, she will experience the equivalent of eight years imprisonment.

Eskridge's portrait of executives balancing corporate responsibilities and personal loyalties in the midst of Machiavellian machinations rings crisp and true. The account of Jackal's apparent abandonment by Ko, her confinement, her chillingly visceral struggle with isolation-induced madness, and her ultimate transformation from self-centeredness to self-sufficiency is almost completely convincing.

Only belief by the usually perceptive Jackal that she has betrayed her lover weakens the book's climax. It's obviously misguided; there has been no betrayal. This lack of perceptiveness on her part might make you doubt the heroine can pull off the smart moves necessary for "Solitaire's" sensible and satisfying conclusion.

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