Jess is a slave, and it's his job to be the first to enter newly pirated spaceships. Slaves go first, trigger the booby traps, and then the slavers claim the prize. I assume other slaves clean up the remains of the first slaves.
But when he and two others survive their entry, the 16 year old suddenly finds himself free and on the run, in a universe of brutal empires, pirates, and slave traders. He can trust only his mysterious and seemingly intelligent new ship, the Wanderer, and maybe—or maybe not—his few friends. What follows is a frantic race to understand and utilize the new ship, while others try to take it from Jess and his small group.
Wanderer’s Escape is the first of a series, and introduces us to a boy and his ship: a ship which, like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, has seemingly unlimited capabilities in the right hands, and a sentient dedication to its owner. Jess makes mistakes--he's a teenager, after all—but like the ship he's a fast learner, and watching him learn is half the fun. Unfortunately, this is a place where learning from your mistakes isn’t as likely as dying from them.
I did feel a little lost at first, not knowing much about the universe Jess inhabits, but getting to know it was a fun ride (although I wouldn't want to live there!) The story reminded me of some of Heinlein’s “juvenile” SF—or rather, my memory of them—which is a compliment. Sometimes the Wanderer seems a bit too good to be true, but there are plenty of other problems along the way to make up for it.