Andre Norton, Lyn McConchie, . . Tor, $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0042-3

Telepathic beasts and the efforts of Laris, a young animal trainer, to escape her bondage to Dedran, a greedy Circus Master, add intrigue to this latest installment of Norton and McConchie's Beast Master series (Beast Master's Arc , etc.). Laris, an orphan and hardworking refugee, loves the creatures she cares for as much as she hates Dedran, who "owns" her until she can earn enough credits to buy her freedom. Fortunately, on the space-traveling freighter The Queen of the Circus and during its stops on various planets, she develops a special telepathic bond with Prauo, a big alien cat who joins her, along with Cregar, another unhappy circus employee, in trying to thwart Dedran's nefarious plan to assist fellow Thieves Guild Members in stealing and cloning gifted beasts. This big top of the future includes illegally obtained "tigerbats" and rare Terran dogs, as well as two colorful crooks, Ideena and Baris, who manage to infuse the somewhat stale plot with much-needed humor. The hints regarding Laris's true identity may be a bit too obvious for more clever readers, while older SF/fantasy fans will likely find the story too tame. Still, animal-loving young adults should be well satisfied. (Feb. 28)