Fine Prey (1998)

Backcover Synopsis: Once the Aya came, there was only one way for the humans to get ahead: by learning the ways of Earth’s new mentors. Now, there is a whole new generation training at Aya School, adopting the Ayan language and customs at the expense of their human heritage.

The promise I saw in Westerfeld’s first novel was fulfilled with this fine book. One of the few SF novels that has as a core theme language, but also a novel about first contact. The real first contact with the Ayan is in the past, but in some ways I think this is a first contact novel in the sense that what the Ayan really do and are is only brought to light here and the real contact, the real understanding comes much slower. In many ways it’s a small scale story, a coming of age story of the main character Spider, who through learning the Ayan language and customs discovers what they really are.