Retread Shop, by T. Jackson King
I've had this on my tbr for a long time, but despaired of finding a copy locally, but there it is on Scribd. I forget who recommended it to me, but I'm so very glad they did. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Retread Shop--an alien-controlled galactic bazaar of unimaginable wealth, rigid caste systems, and ancient cutthroat rivalries. Young Billy McGuire, its only human, was unwanted, scorned, and forced to steal for his living. But now he has a patron, a mysterious alien trader and a new ambition--to become the Shop's first human merchant no matter what the odds!
This description does not at all do it justice. While it sounds like a good old fashioned rollicking space adventure, and it is, but I think it's a bit more than that also.
I particularly liked that most of the aliens are in fact alien, in thought, in behaviour, in motivation. The 'shop' is held together by the slimmest of threads of politics and intrigue, and by an understanding that trade is good for everyone. But few are as naturally talented at it as Billy, who remarks at one point that humanity has a history of waging war for both profit and pleasure, and trade is just another kind of war.
But mostly this is a coming of age story. Billy is acutely alone, and what it is to be truly alone is a theme that comes up several times over. Not just for Billy, but for other characters too, what it's like to experience loneliness in a sea of people, and what it's like to have lost everyone you loved, and to grieve when nobody around you understands that loss. It's surprisingly touching in places.
And yet, somewhere out there is an enormous space ship (actually an inhabited, powered asteroid), heading for the shop, and carrying... more humans, among other things. And a mystery to be solved on the Shop itself - who killed Billy's parents and why? and why are they still after him, 8 years later?
It's not the best sci-fi book I've read, in fact, I found the last section a little weaker than the preceding, particularly once the other humans do in fact arrive. But even the weaker parts of this didn't bring it down for me too far. I found it a really engaging read.
Recommended for: Fans of B5. And maybe DS9, but mostly B5.
Not recommended for: I like books that don't take too much time world building, but immerse you straight into the alienness of their setting, and make you figure it out as you go along. If that makes you crazy, you probably won't like this book.