Black Bead by J.D. Lakey is the first book in her series, the Black Bead Chronicles. The story takes place in an outlying planet where a colony of humans live in a matriarchal society. The women in this society have telepathic, psi, powers.
They live in a dome, to protect themselves from the vicious animals that live on their planet. Usually starting around age 10, boys and girls come together in groups of four or five to form a pack, where they hunt and forage outside of the dome together.
Cheobawn, a six-year-old girl, is the protagonist, and we see this world through her eyes. She’s precocious and much older on the inside, and often it’s hard to believe that she is only six.
Cheobawn has been marked with a black bead, which means she has bad luck. When she was three, she had a choice between two boxes to prove her psi powers. One box contained a deadly animal, the other box contained a doll. Cheobawn is more powerful than most and could see what was in the boxes. However, she does not like dolls, so she knowingly chose the wrong box. Her decision will haunt her the rest of her life.
Luckily, her older friend Megan, who is ten, has taken Cheobawn under her wing and refuses to join any packs without Cheobawn. Then one day, they meet Tam, Connor, and Alain, who agree to make Cheobawn part of their pack.
Black Bead felt more like a setup to the series than a full story. The rest of the story is about their adventure outside of the dome together, and the perils they face trying to get home. Because of Cheobawn, they make it home safe. There are many signs that she has telepathic capabilities that exceed everyone else.
Not much is revealed about the world Cheobawn and her pack live in, though you can piece together how their society works. (As a side note, I didn’t learn until the end of the book, when I read the separate Rank & Dome Affiliation section, that Connor was Tam’s true brother, though maybe this because of the way their society works this doesn’t matter.) There are a lot of rules in order to stay safe, and it’s such a harsh environment that the kids feel much older than they are. In order to survive, you must grow up fast.
J.D. Lakey’s writing is strong, though the pacing of the story is incredibly fast. It feels like there’s no pause for build up or a chance to learn more about the characters. Because of this, it’s hard to relate to Cheobawn and her friends. There is so much going on and the action starts close to the beginning of the story and doesn’t stop until the end.
Overall though, this is a rich, imaginative story with some crazy, terrifying creatures. Black Bead is a great introduction to Cheobawn’s world, and I’m sure the other books in series are good.