The penultimate book in Heinlein’s series of novels for young readers begins very far from Earth on a world in a different part of our galaxy where slavery is alive and well. Baslim the Cripple is a beggar with one leg who plies his trade near the slave market, and while he is normally only part of the audience when slaves are sold, one day he decides to bid on a young boy, Thorby, who no one else seems to want. Baslim wins the auction and takes the boy to his secret underground home, where Thorby discovers his new master can become a very different person there, one who leads the secret life of a spy. At first Thorby tries hard to escape, but eventually is won over by Baslim’s fairness and friendship, and Thorby becomes his apprentice beggar, and eventually also a messenger for Baslim’s other trade. All that changes one day when Baslim is arrested and imprisoned after the police trash their home. Thorby is being hunted, but he remembers his instructions from Baslim if something like this happened: find a way to contact the captain of any Free Trading starship for help. That sets Thorby on a journey through space first as a member of the Free Traders, later as part of a galactic military force, and ending on Earth as he gradually discovers many surprising things about Baslim and himself.
I remember enjoying this the last time I read it about 20 years ago, but this time it seemed too talky, with many Heinlein lectures and not enough action. It’s a fine book, but not one of my favorites in this series. Still recommended.