Angelfall, by Susan Ee

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 28, 2012

Summary: It’s been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it. Only pockets of humanity remain.

Savage street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night.

When angels fly away with a helpless girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back…

Thoughts: The apocalypse has come, and it was by the hand of angels that humanity fell. People survive in tiny scattered pockets, hiding desperately from angels who are bent on wiping out the last remaining few people. Penryn’s in a tougher position than most after her wheelchair-bound little sister gets stolen by a band of angels, and her schizophrenic mother is no help in getting her back. But with the reluctant help of Raffe, a wounded and outcast angel, she might just stand a chance.

Post-apocalyptic YA fiction isn’t exactly short on the shelves these days, but Angelfall still manages to stand out decently amid other offerings. It manages to use elements from Judeo-Christian religion without being overtly religious and preachy, which is a fine line to walk and was much appreciated. There is a God, in theory, but He only talks to one angel, who relays messages to the rest, and nobody’s really communicated with Him otherwise in who knows how long. Rather than having scenes about how people could have been saved if only they’d believed, yadda yadda yadda, it’s established that most of the angels don’t know why they’re there. They just followed orders. It’s more like the angels are incidentally attached to religion rather than religion being the focus of everything, which was nice.

Penryn’s journey leads her through treacherous territory, not just in having to help Raffe along and keep his true angelic nature hidden from any humans they encounter, but also through a paramilitary camp, and eventually into the heart of an angel base in California. From the reader’s perspective, the journey is fairly quick, skipping over most of the aspects of travel in favour of detailing the more disturbing aspects of what’s happening in the world. For the most part, this worked well, allowing for the story to move forward at a brisk pace. A couple of scenes, though, seemed utterly out of nowhere and pointless, such as Penryn arranging to get in a girly-fight with someone and lose so that people could place bets and be entertained, in exchange for her getting help in her quest. The reason this was so pointless is that it took about a chapter and a half of setup and then was aborted for more important and more interesting occurrences, leaving me wondering why that bit couldn’t have just been cut out.

For the most part, it was a very interesting story with an uncommon twist on current apocalyptic trends. Which is surprising that I can say, given that you’d think bringing angels into the end times wouldn’t be that big a leap, given North America’s heavy Christian population. Maybe that’s the very reason why it’s so different, though; few people wanted to step into those waters and walk that fine line between having inspiration drawn from religion and delivering an entertaining secular story. I think Ee is to be praised for managing that quite adeptly, for creating that kind of story without tipping the balance too far one way or the other.

The characters were quite interesting, too. Raffe’s true identity wasn’t that difficult to figure out for anyone who’s got a semi-decent knowledge of commonly referenced angels, though weirdly, he was the character I was least interested in. I felt that he was underdeveloped, and not just in the way that he was attempting to keep much of his identity secret from just about everybody. He would go from — if you’ll excuse the pun — holier-than-thou to very down-to-earth in a second, ranging from familiarity with modern culture to suddenly being annoyed that humans dare think of angels as anything but superior, and I was left with the feeling that Ee couldn’t quite pin down who she wanted this guy to be.

Far more interesting, I found, was Penryn’s mother, and the way her schizophrenia affected her during the extremely troubled times. As a woman who confronted demons on a daily basis, suddenly finding herself in a world where angels are killing humans all over the place must have been simultaneously confusing and all too familiar. There were many times when I couldn’t tell whether her hallucinations were actually drawn from being able to see and comprehend that supernatural events around her in a way that nobody else could, or whether she was just a truly distressed woman in a terrifying world, struggling to get by and coincidentally hitting on a few things that worked. I was hoping to see more development for her, but she really only showed up sporadically, so instead I’ll keep hoping that she gets a bigger part to play in future books.

If there was any one thing that bothered me about Angelfall, it was the reveal near the end, that angels were working on some weird science experiment that created strange scorpion-angel monsters that sucked the life out of people. It felt over the top, and pretty pointless considering that the premise for this book is, “Angels brought to apocalypse and there’s an internal power struggle going on.” That alone could have provided plenty of fodder for a great story, but throwing in the scorpion things and the mutilation of kidnapped human children felt like the author was trying to one-up herself with plot twists where none were needed. It was supposed to be terrifying, and visually it was, but at the same time it fell flat because it felt so very out of place.

But despite that, the majority of the story was quite good. Relatively tight pacing, and interesting premise, and plenty of potential that I hope gets explored further in future novels. It’s more than enough to make me want to keep reading and find out how things develop. It’s a unique story that’s more than welcome on the bookshelves of YA fans, insightful and very human.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Ink, by Amanda Sun

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – June 25, 2013

Summary: On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they’ll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

Thoughts: I have an almost instinctive pull to books involving Japan, largely because I’m interested in the culture and language and like to immerse myself in both things as much as I can since I can’t actually go there at the moment. Unfortunately, for a long time I seemed destined to be disappointed, since almost every SFF novel I read that incorporated Japan in some way did it, well, badly. Poor use of the language, having every Japanese character act like they popped out of a mech anime, you name it. I was starting to think that the only novels that might actually portray Japan anywhere near accurately would be the ones actually written in Japanese. (And alas, I don’t read it well enough at the moment to make attempting that anything more than an exercise in translation, which wouldn’t really allow me to sink into a story the way I can when it’s in English.) I even found some of those issues in books that had been translated from Japanese into English, which, aside from being the sign of a poor translation, just didn’t give me much hope that I’d ever manage to find what I was looking for.

Then along came Ink, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Katie is living with her aunt in Shizuoka, after the death of her mother, and she’s not exactly happy with the arrangement. Her grasp of Japanese is just barely enough to get her by, she misses where she grew up, and that’s all on top of experiencing a major family tragedy. Then she gets involved with Tomohiro, a mysterious boy from her school who has a bad reputation but turns out to be an artist and athlete with a huge secret. He’s kami, a being somewhere between what we know as a god and a spirit, and far from being limited only to ancient stories and religious doctrine, he and his kind play a part in Japan’s affairs even now. Tomohiro would rather suppress his abilities, preferring to keep them in the dark rather than letting them out and risking hurting those around him, but when the yakuza get involved, he might not have much choice in the matter.

If what I described sounds like it’s also something right out of an anime, well, that’s a pretty accurate judgment. But Sun manages to balance that element rather well with actual day-to-day life events; it was, in the beginning, more like a slice-of-life anime than a shoujo story with supernatural elements. And I kind of liked that, since it portrayed living in Japan as realistic. Kids go to school, they go to school clubs, they go home, they eat curry-rice, they watch ridiculous game shows on TV. Then the paranormal stuff comes in and makes it far more of a YA urban fantasy, the plot kicks up a notch and things get far more action-packed as Katie and Tomohiro try to keep his powers a secret from the thugs who want to use them to their advantage.

Sun also incorporates Japanese words and phrases in a way that I actually like. Most novels I’ve seen try to do that end up making the dialogue seem awkward, in part because the author’s knowledge of Japanese seems, well, lacking. I don’t claim to be fluent, but I know enough to be able to tell when the grammar is stilted or verb tenses are being used incorrectly. Sun makes mention in the author’s notes that she actually consulted native speakers to make sure the characters were speaking like actual Japanese teenagers, a small step with big results. Those who are interested in the language can pick up a few new phrases, and those who already know enough to not need the glossary will be able to move along at a swift pace. (Personally, I was amused right from the cover, listing it as part of the Paper Gods series; the pun there is that depending on how it’s written, kami can refer to either a god or paper.)

Ink is a quick read, decently-paced and with writing that flows well. What works against is it that it does come across very much like an anime in the wrong ways, with a reliance on stereotypes that get tired quickly. It’s very predictable. The only character who seems to have much depth is Tomohiro, and even then it’s only within the rather strict confines of the Bad Boy With A Soft Heart stereotype. If you read this book expecting anything other than what you’d get in a shoujo anime, you’ll end up disappointed.

That being said, though, if that is what you’re looking for, then Ink is going to trip all the right triggers.

I’m curious to read the sequel, since this is so far one of the very few novels to actually portray Japan in a way that doesn’t grate on my nerves, and the plot got quite interesting toward the end, with Katie deciding to stay in Japan and with two sides fighting over Tomohiro’s powers. There’s a good amount of potential in that cliffhanger ending, and I want to see how it plays out. It’s definitely an indulgence read, like ice cream, a treat when you want something that doesn’t have to be amazing and blow-your-mind good but can still be enjoyable and fun. I can’t say I’d recommend Ink to everyone, but as I said, for fans of shoujo anime and manga, it’ll be right up their alley.

The Dickens Mirror, by Ilsa J Bick

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date -March 10, 2015

Summary: Critically acclaimed author of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick takes her new Dark Passages series to an alternative Victorian London where Emma Lindsay continues to wade through blurred realities now that she has lost everything: her way, her reality, her friends. In this London, Emma will find alternative versions of her friends from the White Space and even Arthur Conan Doyle.

Emma Lindsay finds herself with nowhere to go, no place to call home. Her friends are dead. Eric, the perfect boy she wrote into being, and his brother, Casey, are lost to the Dark Passages. With no way of knowing where she belongs, she commands the cynosure, a beacon and lens that allows for safe passage between the Many Worlds, to put her where she might find her friends—find Eric—again. What she never anticipated was waking up in the body of Little Lizzie, all grown up—or that, in this alternative London, Elizabeth McDermott is mad.

In this London, Tony and Rima are “rats,” teens who gather the dead to be used for fuel. Their friend, Bode, is an attendant at Bedlam, where Elizabeth has been committed after being rescued by Arthur Conan Doyle, a drug-addicted constable.

Tormented by the voices of all the many characters based on her, all Elizabeth wants is to get rid of the pieces under her skin once and for all. While professing to treat Elizabeth, her physician, Dr. Kramer, has actually drugged her to allow Emma—who’s blinked to this London before—to emerge as the dominant personality…because Kramer has plans. Elizabeth is the key to finding and accessing the Dickens Mirror.

But Elizabeth is dying, and if Emma can’t find a way out, everyone as they exist in this London, as well as the twelve-year-old version of herself and the shadows—what remains of Eric, Casey, and Rima that she pulled with her from the Dark Passages—will die with her.

Thoughts: This book is going to be difficult for me to review properly. In part because it’s such a brain-bender, requiring you to really really challenge your grasp of timelines and your sense of reality, and in part because a section of my brain just wants to make this review entirely out of swear words, because it’s just that amazing!

Continuing from where White Space left off, Emma is now trapped in the mind of Elizabeth, who is in turn trapped inside an asylum in an alternate-universe Victoria London that is besieged by a strange thick fog and a dreaded rotting disease. Rima, Tony, and Bode are also there, but as though they grew up in that London, rather than as the characters we got to know in the previous book. Kramer is still after the secret of the Dickens Mirror and the ability to jump to different Nows.

When I said this book is a brain-bender, I wasn’t exaggerating. Firstly, there’s all the ideas that got introduced during White Space. That book-worlds can yield real people. That characters in books can create characters of their own and in turn become real. That real people can have pieces of themselves put into characters in books and thus share a deep link with them. That time is an illusion. That’s all still in there, and is fundamental to understanding what’s going on. Then you add in a tweak on dissociative identity disorder, the question of whether characters are more real than the people who created them, and whether or not I as the reader am even real or whether Ilsa Bick is still writing me!

(No, seriously, I actually had a moment during this book where I doubted my own reality. The Dickens Mirror may go down in my personal history as the only novel to give me an existential crisis.)

Then it goes on to get even more meta with the ending, when Emma is sitting in a bookstore listening to an author talk about her new novel, The Dickens Mirror, and how it plays with multiverse theory, and Emma thinks that she hates it when characters in books have the same name as her. And while it’s a lovely little tongue-in-cheek scene, it also begs the question as to whether or not that Emma is the primary Emma, or whether that’s even an applicable question because of course she can’t be, she’s just a character in the book I’m reading, OH WAIT MY BRAIN HURTS AGAIN!

This is what you’re in for when you read this series. And I strongly recommend you do. It’s phenomenal, one of the best YA series to come along in years, and tragically underappreciated because it involves a highly complex plot that many people just don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around. It’s not a light read. It may require you to keep notes so that the converging plotlines and multi-dimensional versions of characters keep making sense. It’s the kind of series you read when you want something utterly out of the ordinary, something to challenge you and your fundamental beliefs about reality and the nature of being. It introduces some advanced ideas that aren’t simple to comprehend and are even more difficult to apply.

But here’s the thing. If you can fall into the right headspace, throw aside your understanding of reality and just let the story carry you along, it still all makes sense. It’s a mind-twister for certain, but it’s still a cohesive story that gets a solid conclusion within the boundaries it sets for itself. It’s not trite. It’s disturbing on multiple levels, both with stomach-churning imagery and thought-churning quantum theory. I think it works best for people who already know how to look at the world sideways, who look at life from different angles and who don’t just accept things as they are because that’s what everyone says is so. It’s for people who love to ask questions and be challenged by the answers. And it’s a series with amazing reread potential, something with earlier scenes you can probably read completely differently when you already know the truth.

I can’t recommend White Space and The Dickens Mirror enough, I really can’t. Bick works wonders here, true wonders, and I have immense respect for someone who can sit down and hold this entire story in their head while writing it out. Take your time with this one, let the amazing characters and the outstanding story sweep you away, keep copious notes, and enjoy the ride. I’ve found a gem among gems, a novel with wide cross-genre appeal, and while it may take some getting used to, it’s worth every last second.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Fire Sermon, by Francesca Haig

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Author’s Twitter | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 10, 2015

Summary: The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this richly imagined first novel in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy by award-winning poet Francesca Haig.

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.

Thoughts: Judging by the description, it would seem at first glance as though The Fire Sermon was just another average run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic YA novel, with young adults bringing down the corrupt system and proving themselves to a harsh world. And in some ways, that is what you’re going to get here. But there’s also more to the book that I don’t typically expect from such a novel, such as Haig’s gorgeous writing, with very evocative imagery. Other books I’ve read in this genre typically have decent writing, but it’s of a type, and much of it I find is very interchangeable with just about every other novel in the genre. Haig’s work stands out where that’s concerned; it has its own voice, one that’s quite distinct from the others surrounding it.

Cass is an Omega, the lesser of a pair of twins, the one who bears the brunt of deformity so that their perfect Alpha twin can live a whole and unblemished life. Cass’s burden, however, is that she has psychic powers, the ability to see glimpses into the future or far-away present events. Because she otherwise appeared whole and unblemished during her childhood, both she and her brother Zach were held back in society. Prohibitions against Omegas getting an education or even really interacting with Alphas meant that neither child could partake fully in society, since it was unknown for a long time whether she or Zach was the true Alpha. But her secret was uncovered eventually, and she was branded and outcast to live in one of the Omega villages while Zach took his place in Alpha society. But it wasn’t enough for her to be segregated like that. After a while in her new life, men on horseback approach her and take her away, imprisoned for reasons she doesn’t understand.

And that’s just the beginning of the story.

The story is quite long and involved, and to me, that was actually something of a failing, especially since there wasn’t a great deal of action to keep the story moving. This is partly a fault of expectations, however; I’m used to stories of this type being rather action-driven, whereas The Fire Sermon contained far more periods of reflection than high-suspense scenes. Things definitely happened, and the plot moved along at a relatively even pace, which was nice, but much of that lacked tension and instead focused on evoking reactions of pity and sadness rather than fear or anger. It was an interesting direction for the book to go in, and one that lends itself quite well to Haig’s polished prose, but it seemed to make the book feel rather flat with only a few memorable peaks in action toward the end.

The romance (you knew there was going to be some; it’s a YA post-apoc novel, after all) was decently done for the most part, affection between Cass and Kip growing over time and due to circumstance, rather than have a love-at-first-sight situation. Which I can appreciate. What I didn’t appreciate, though, was the rather clumsy attempt to shoehorn a love triangle in there, with Cass and Piper. Honestly, most of the time it seemed like the characters weren’t even going for it, there was no real interest except on Piper’s part, and it felt so forced and awkward that I feel the story would have done better to just have that part cut entirely. It didn’t add anything beyond a couple of conversations between Cass and Kip about jealousy, and it took away from more important issues occurring at the time.

What I did especially like, though, was Cass’s greater understanding of Alphas and Omegas, due to her rather unique perspective after having spent far more time with her twin than, well, just about anybody else in memory. In the battle between sides, Alphas versus Omegas, it was she who primarily remembered that every time one was killed, their twin died. You may kill off the invading army, but somewhere, all of their twins dropped dead, killed by connections they couldn’t help, all in the name of protecting people just like them. Normally I’m not so fond of characters who are the only ones who can see issues that other people just accept as a matter of course, or don’t even see at all, but I actually think this was done well enough to bypass most of my “special snowflake” complaints.

If you’re looking for a good new addition to the YA post-apoc genre, then The Fire Sermon fits that bill. It’s intelligent, compassionate, and written in a way that gives the whole thing a more mature feel than most readers, I suspect, are used to. (That the characters are actually in their early 20s probably helps, though they still come across like teenagers, for the most part. Maybe this is more “new adult” than “young adult?”) I rate it 3 stars, but a strong 3, bordering on 4, and most of where it fails in my eyes is because I’m still apparently burned out on that genre. It may have some exemplary features, but at its core it’s still an addition to a bloated genre that seems to have very little originality despite having a large number of new books. (This is where I maintain that it’s impossible to review ina vacuum; other books do affect our opinions of later books, and that has to be taken into account for both positive and negative.) If you’re a fan of the genre and are looking for something a little different but that still leaves you on familiar ground, then absolutely look into The Fire Sermon. If you’re looking for something to breathe new life into the genre, then sadly, this isn’t it. It’s good, but not that good.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Atlanta Burns, by Chuck Wendig

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 27, 2015

Summary: You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault.

You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Thoughts: Atlanta Burns has a problem. Many problems, in fact. Chief among them is that she has the kind of personality that can’t take anything lying down. When she’s kicked, she kicks back.

Or, to be more accurate, when she’s molested, she takes a gun and blows the sack off the man who touched her.

That’s how Atlanta gets her reputation. A reputation that gets her the attention when she’d rather have none, and puts her in the orbit of two other teens with serious problems of their own. And while Atlanta tries to keep her own company, to avoid getting drawn in to other people’s problems, she can’t escape them. Abuse cries out for vengeance, and that’s exactly what she’s going to serve.

Atlanta Burns is not a comfortable read. It’s not meant to be. It’s brutal, it’s cruel, and some scenes can leave you with a heavy sick feeling in your stomach. This isn’t an after school special where the bullies are just misunderstood awkward kids who lash out because they’re secretly lonely and want friends. This is a novel where the bullies will burn a boy with cigarettes because he’s openly gay, will kidnap and torture small animals, would rape a girl if given the chance of no repercussions. Where it’s not just teens who are bullies, where sometimes cops are crooked, where sometimes parents are stupid, where racist homophobic bigots have power and respect. In short, it’s the real world, and Wendig doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat any of the large piles of crap that are out there. Atlanta Burns is what happens when one person decides to get retribution for all the hell suffered by herself and those she knows. It’s not a novel about justice. It’s a novel about vengeance.

Wendig’s writing is brilliant as usual, and the narration reads very much the way people think and speak. Slang. Wit. Observation. Sentence fragments all over the place. And true to what I’ve come to expect from Wendig, plenty of swearing, again adding to the realism of teenage life. That’s a major part of what causes this book to hit home. You real a lot of fiction meant for teens, and the worst half of them say is “damn,” and the most they think or talk about sex is in vague romantic terms. And from my experience being a teenager, things really aren’t like that. Teens can have fouler mouths than adults, simply because they’ve hit that age where they’re not longer likely to be punished for cursing. So it’s f-bombs all across the board, for the novelty of it and because there are few better ways to express what you’re feeling at that time. Wendig’s teens talk and think like actual teens, utterly unsanitized and not dumbed down for anyone’s sensibilities.

Which makes sense, given the subject matter of the novel.

Atlanta Burns is a novel sure to generate a lot of talk, because it rips the pretty veil off life and exposes the brutal reality beneath. It deals with a lot of things that some people would rather close their eyes to, because it’s painful and difficult and sometimes it feels easier to close your eyes rather than face another day of hell. It’s the kind of book that both teens and adults need to read, though do keep in mind that it can be incredibly triggering and it might not be the sort of thing that can be read in a single sitting. I had to put it down a few times just to give myself a break from the imagery and the emotions that it generated, and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who had this reaction. I felt a little bit sick more than once. Readers are reminded at every turn that “it gets better” doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people have to work to make it better. And just in case that doesn’t quite hit hard enough, those words are stated in no uncertain terms right at the end.

This is a book better experienced than explained, because by this point, I honestly don’t think this review can do the book justice. I rate it so highly precisely because it’s painful to read, because it calls attention to old wounds that I can relate to a little too well in some cases. If you’re lucky enough to have never been bullied, to have never been driven to the point where you seriously consider harming or killing yourself, if you’ve never felt that silent scream stuck inside you because you’re on the outside and the world seems impossibly set against you and any scream you let loose will just be mocked or ignored, then this book will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live that kind of life. And if, like me, you have felt those things, this book might give you hope that there are people out there who see it, who see the problems, and who will launch themselves into action to make sure that brutality stops.

It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. And it’s worth every word.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Young Elites, by Marie Lu

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 7, 2014

Summary: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Thoughts: The Young Elites surprised me in quite a few ways. From what I’d heard of the concept, I was expecting something in a modern or a near-future setting, maybe dystopian or post-apocalyptic, since when you think of teens dealing with superpowers, that tends to be the popular setting. But to have it take place in a secondary world, a fantasy setting, was unexpected. Magic exists in dozens of ways in fantasy settings, but YA fantasy seems to be a less common thing now than YA dystopias or sci-fi, so when I was presented with something a little more to my reading taste than I expected, I was pleased.

For much of the book, my opinion wavered between thinking it was a good book but had little to make it stand out from others (aside from the general quality of writing and storytelling, I mean; I suppose that alone can make a book stand out), and from feeling deeply bad for the main character, Adelina. Scarred by the blood fever that swept through the land years ago, and left with strange powers as a result, she is a malfetto, deemed worthless by most and an outright curse of society by others. For a long time her power did not surface, no matter how hard her father tried to influence them by a twisted mix of kindness and cruelty, physical and emotional abuse that made me cringe, until the night he decides to sell her into marriage to cover his own debts, cutting his losses on a “useless ugly daughter.” Then her powers manifest, taking the form of darkness and illusions that can kill, bringing about the death of her father and her subsequent capture and planned execution.

Enter the Dagger Society. Made up of people called Young Elites, malfettos with powers, who rescue Adelina and seek to use her to further their goals of overthrowing the current monarchy that declares them all to be cursed and the downfall of society. Enter the Inquisition, who want to use Adelina as a spy to learn about the Dagger Society’s plans, offering her a chance at redemption in the eyes of the gods if she helps eliminate the blight on the world, and who hold her sister captive as incentive. Adelina is torn between her need to save her sister and her growing attraction to the leader of the Daggers, Enzo, and is caught in the middle of a huge mess.

Adelina is an amazing character, in no small part because she is not your typical YA heroine. She has trauma, and that trauma affects every area of her life. She spent much of her life in an abusive family situation, with her father seeking to use her for what powers he thinks he can draw out of her. She transitions to a situation where two opposing groups seek to use her for their own gains. She is dark, her power born from pain and fear, and she has a desire to hurt those who hurt her, viciously and vindictively, and that is what sets her apart from others. Most YA protags, especially females, may have their hurts that make them tougher but ultimately they are still good. Chaotic Good, maybe, but there’s still that aspect about them. Adelina is more Chaotic Neutral, doing not what she does because it’s good or because she truly believes in one group or another’s goals, but from self-interest, and ofter from blind anger and for retribution rather than justice. Reading Marie Lu’s notes at the end about how she wanted to tell the story of a villain rather than a hero makes this even more interesting, since it works well to humanize villains and show them as people who can arise from the hurt and abused who are tired of letting that pattern continue and who are granted the power to stop it.

And the ending? Heartbreaking. And I can’t go into details here without letting loose a whole stream of spoilers, which would ruin much of the book for those who haven’t read it yet but still want to. All I’ll say is that however much The Young Elites may lean on tropes now and again, just about everything in the last few chapters was unexpected, and I didn’t foresee it at all! Which is impressive, and shows that Lu has some good skill at telling the story that needs to be told rather than telling the same story that everyone else already has.

The Young Elites is a quick read, made all the quicker for the good balance of action and emotion, since even the slower scenes of the book are revealing and do much to move the plot along. Little in here is filler. And it should be said that I didn’t experience my usual annoyance with the first-person viewpoint. I find that often with that viewpoint it takes much of the tension away from scenes that are supposed to be brimming with it, because you know, on some level, that the person you’re following will come out okay. Or at least won’t die. So throwing them into crazy action doesn’t actually do much to raise the tension of the story. But many of Adelina’s scenes did not involve throwing herself into danger, and when they did, it wasn’t the sort of danger that could turn deadly, so that problem was eliminated before it even began. Nicely done!

I can’t wait to read the sequel when it comes out. Lu has set up a wonderful villain for us to follow, an antagonist in a protagonists’s wrappings, and I want to know how the rest of the story unfolds. It’s easy to see that The Young Elites was merely setup to a larger and further-reaching tale, and there’s a lot that still needs to be resolved, so I’m joining the crowds that are eager for the sequel’s release so we can continue with Adelina’s story. Lu has got herself a new fan here, and one that definitely recommends this to those who are seeking a YA fantasy that is familiar and fresh all at the same time!

White Space, by Ilsa J Bick

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date  – February 11, 2014

Summary: In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real.

Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they’ve been brought to this place–a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written–before someone pens their end.

Thoughts: Throughout reading this book, my brain went through three different stages. First it was lightly poached. Then it started to get a bit fried. Then at the end, it was thoroughly scrambled. White Space is one of those novels that I say without a doubt isn’t for everybody, because it’s confusing as anything and requires twisting your mind in about 5 different directions at once and spending the majority of the book not knowing half of what’s going on.

But because of this, it’s a book with amazing reread potential. Not just that, but I think it requires multiple reads to fully appreciate, because the story is beautifully complex, a multifaceted gem of storytelling. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, all of teens with abilities that they don’t quite understand and definitely don’t want to reveal, thrown together by painful circumstance and forced to solve the mystery of what brought them together and what keeps attacking and killing everyone around them, before they themselves are killed. Emma experiences strange blinks where she loses time and gets visions and memories of someone else’s very disturbing life, as well as getting glimpses of a famous author’s unfinished works. Rima can sense the whispers of the dead in things that were close to them. The gifts of the others, don’t become clear until much later on, so I won’t give any spoilers in that regard, but suffice to say that some of them aren’t quite what I expected. Everything is important, everything in its place, which is impressive for a novel that’s so steeped in utter chaos.

There’s some extremely disturbing imagery in White Space, more than I’ve come to expect in novels aimed at teens, and enough to make me feel pretty squeamish at times. From people being torn apart from the inside to just knowing that any character you may get attached to might not make it out of the story alive, it’s a book that evokes a lot of emotion in the reader, and it’s something that I think some may need a bit of a warning before they get fully into it. I may not have the weakest stomach, but there was some stuff in here to make me feel uncomfortable. The imagery was terrifyingly clear.

Which is one of those things that, as the book goes on and pieces of the overarching story get revealed, gives me pause in retrospect. Much of the story is about characters in books being real on another plane of existence, part of a separate multiverse that their creator/artist reaches into in order to bring out books, paintings, and so on. To tell stories. The best books get under your skin, are so real that the reader feels them deeply, sinks into them, and sees them as if they’re really there. So when a book that plays with that notion is just such a book, well, you may start to understand why my mind felt like a cooked egg by the end of it.

That notion also can appeal to just about any writer who’s had the experience of dealing with characters as though they’re real people. Characters don’t always want to do what they’re told. You want the plot to go one way, they want to do something else entirely. It’s practically a running gag amongst those who have fictional people inside their heads. Not only does White Space address the issue of popular works of fiction being part of a real multiverse, but it also looks at what might happen if a character was unfinished, without a set beginning, middle, and end to their story, and what happens then. What also happens when the author puts enough of themselves into a character; do they become part of the character, or does the character become a part of them? Honestly, at times I started to feel like Bick must have been present for one of might late-night conversations with friends in which we discussed these very issues, because so much of this book’s exploration of reality and multiverse theory matched closely with the general consensus we all reached at the time.

Which begs the question: is Ilsa J Bick writing my life and made me have those conversations and reach those conclusions?

This is what I mean when I say this book isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the kind of mind that enjoys those sorts of hypotheticals, and throwing a bunch of “what if” questions together all at the same time, then much of what makes this book so brilliant for me will be lost on you. It is, however, a fantastic YA horror novel with powerful imagery that challenges the notions of what teenagers can and cannot handle in their fiction, and for that alone I think this book deserves a greater amount of attention. I can’t wait to read the second book of the duology, due out in 2015, and at least this time I’ll know what a head-trip I’m getting myself into when I sit down with it.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Meritropolis, by Joel Ohman

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 8, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment–to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn’t an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing–not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science–is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn’t possibly have bargained for…

Thoughts: This was one of those books that drew me to it out of rage-induced curiosity. The idea that on a weekly basis, people would be evaluated for their use to society, assigned a number based on that, and if they were deemed to be too useless, their score would be ‘zeroed’ and they were be turned out beyond the city’s protective walls, left to the mercy of the elements and the dangerous beasts that roamed at night. This brutal regime is the only way to keep the city’s population in check with their limited resources. It was an idea that hit home due to the sheer number of times I’ve felt that I’m utterly replaceable. I do no job that couldn’t really be done by anyone else. I have made no real contributions to society. I’ve affected nobody in a really significant way. I probably would have been zeroed long ago, if the world I live in worked in such a way. So I had to take a look and see what the book was all about.

Unfortunately, there were a few questions that didn’t really get answered that made me think the system was full of holes. First off, use is relative; a baby is utterly useless within those terms, especially if there’s a population problem, so enforced sterility would have worked better for controlling things. Most children are similarly useless. The system did have a bit of a sliding scale, allowing children to be graded on a bit of a curve relative to their peers and developmental milestones, but there was a case of a young girl who developed mobility problems, who was zeroed because of them. The system was painfully ablist, unless there are literally no useful jobs a person could do while sitting or lying down, this girl could still have had a use. No real mention was made of training outside of what High Scores get; many people feel pretty useless until they find something that really resonates with them and they get the training in it, and then they go on to be amazing.

All of that could be argued against by saying that there was no merit to wasting time and resources on someone who might grow up to be useful to society later, and the reveal at the end shows that the whole thing was meant to be a short-lived project anyway, but therein lies my second problem. Short-lived regimes like that don’t work without every inhabitant being brutally beaten down or given no other choice. The first generation to really be born and raised in Meritropolis (for that’s the city’s actual name) is just coming to age as the book takes place, which requires adults of many ages to have willingly and without a fuss consented to the whole system in the first place. I see this problem a lot in near-future dystopias, the idea that such a regime could crop up almost overnight and go entirely without a hitch until the protagonist comes along. People may have felt forced into Meritropolis because they didn’t think they had anywhere else to go, but that doesn’t mean they would have just lain down and accepted every single rule without question. People don’t even do that now and here, and the laws we live by here are much more permissive!

As for the protagonist, Charley, well, he’s a golden boy, the kind of do-no-wrong character that gets himself into all the right kinds of trouble in the name of justice. Disgusted with the system for zeroing his brother, he aims to get his revenge, to stand up for the wronged, and in doing so catches the attention of the city’s ruler and highest-scoring citizen, Commander Orson. Orson decides to fast-track Charley and put him in a dangerous position, raising his Score in doing so, as a sort of back-handed reward. Charley excels at this (further proving my point that some people may seem useless until put into the right situation or given the right training), and without any real experience with fighting, manages to do things like pole-vaulting over the head of a charging boar-hybrid, as well as seeing his Score skyrocket until he, not Orson, is the highest Score in the city. If mistakes happened, things would always come out perfectly in the end. He may drop his toast, but it will always land butter side up.

I found the characters to be fairly flat and uninspired. Charley is a hothead with little regard for consequence, which makes him a surprisingly boring protagonist to ride on the shoulder of as the story progresses. Meritropolis’s criminal kingpin, Chappy, shows more foresight and restraint and ability to plan than Charley does, and when the criminals are doing it better than the revolutionary hero, there’s a problem. Charley gets random spots of info from Orson’s incredibly attractive girlfriend, who gets said secret intel from Orson without problem and then, because it makes her unhappy, she just must tell someone and it just happens to be the person trying to overthrow the system. So few characters played major roles but had sparse motivation, or were just straight-up caricatures of humanity.

I think, when all is said and done, that the ideas explored in this book were fantastic and compelling but suffered from poor delivery. Too many unanswered questions and too few explored motivations made a lot of the story ring hollow, and it felt a lot like every event was set up just so Charley could show off how awesome he was destined to be. It was a hero story, a story of triumph against all odds, but an unrealistic one, and I feel that there were numerous missed opportunities for character development. The foundation on which the whole story was built was complex but ultimately unstable.

A lot of people really seem to enjoy this book. It’s been getting a lot of positive reviews, so this may simply be a case of Your Mileage May Vary. For my part, Charley was a rather unappealing character. Others who enjoy seeing someone act the hero and ignore consequences in his pursuit of personal justice may resonate better with him and find fewer problems with the story because of it. But it’s not a series I plan to continue with, because all the problems mounted up by the end and even the initial interest I had fizzled away after Meritropolis fell, so there’s not much for me to feel compelled to go back to.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

The Doubt Factory, by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 14, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Everything Alix knows about her life is a lie. At least that’s what a mysterious young man who’s “stalking”her keeps saying. But then she begins investigating the disturbing claims he makes against her father. Could her dad really be at the helm of a firm that distorts the truth and covers up wrongdoing by hugely profitable corporations that have allowed innocent victims to die? Is it possible that her father is the bad guy, and that the undeniably alluring criminal who calls himself Moses–and his radical band of teen activists–is right? Alix has to make a choice, and time is running out, but can she truly risk everything and blow the whistle on the man who loves her and raised her?

Thoughts: I think I was expecting something different when I started reading The Doubt Factory. For a large percentage of the book, I kept waiting for some odd supernatural or futuretech element to be revealed. Hazards of mostly reading SFF, I think. But despite that particular mistaken expectation not being met, I can’t deny that The Doubt Factory was a good YA thriller, an intelligent look at conspiracy theories, which side of the coin they apply to, and how the truth is so easy to obfuscate.

The story is told from the perspective of Alix, daughter of an affluent family whose fortunes are made thanks to her fathers work in PR. As Alix put it, when lawsuits happen, he works to allow both sides to be able to tell their stories, so that everyone gets a fair shot. But as a series of pranks escalate to a kidnapping, Alex slowly comes to understand that her father’s work is far from fair, that what he does ends up hiding evidence, suppressing unbiased research, and preventing wronged parties from being able to get reparation and justice. And she has been living off the profits of such enterprise for most of her life, going to an elite private school, making connections with other rich and influential families, living in a great house. It’s the kind of novel that’s practically custom-made for the socially conscious disenfranchised teen who wants to make a splash in the world but who may lack the motivation or resources to disseminate truth from lie.

And that’s largely what this book is about. An awakening and understanding that lies can look like truth and vice versa, depending on what information one is being fed. Conspiracy theorists say a lot of things, from the idea that nobody ever landed on the moon, to the idea that corporations can and do buy political favour to influence laws, to the idea that George Bush Jr is a lizard alien. One of these things is actually true. But sometimes it’s hard to decide which one when all of the sound crazy or all of them sound like there could be a grain of truth there. Conspiracy theorists are rarely taken seriously by anyone but other conspiracy theorists, which harms efforts when the conspiracy is actually true.

It also raises questions about cost versus gain. Using an example from the book, if a new medication is developed that improved the lives of 95% of users but causes fatal heart attacks in the remaining 5%, should that medication be pulled from the market? What counts as acceptable risk? What’s the percentage of people who have to risk suffering so that others can have an improved life? Is any percentage acceptable when you’re standing face-to-face with someone who lost family because they were in that 5% group? These are difficult questions to answer, and while it’s clear that The Doubt Factory is firmly on the side of those who have suffered rather than those who profited, it also takes pains to say that there are no clear answers, that the world doesn’t exist in black and white and there’s always more information if you dig deep enough.

(You know a book’s good and thought-provoking when I spend most of my review commenting on the subject matter and its application to the real world…)

I haven’t read many of Bacigalupi’s works, but what I have read leads me to believe that he knows how to write an interesting character, and how to make the cast diverse and real. They’re not just archetypes, they’re people with depth and layers, and nobody is entirely right or entirely wrong. Even Alix’s father, a man whose profession involves twisting the truth and organizing biased research and suppressing unbiased research, is a loving father who cares deeply about his children and wants the best for them, even if his ideas of ‘best’ differ from his daughter’s. Her brother was a rebellious teen with impulse control issues who nevertheless was still loyal to his sister. Kook, the caffeine-and-marijuana-fueled computer hacker was abrasive and rude and very much devoted to her cause. Cynthia spent months hiding her identity to get close to Alix in order to get info from her and make her see what her father was doing, and her mission didn’t stop her from genuinely feeling friendship for her target. Adam is a DJ and activist with a fondness for adorable rats. (And he was my favourite secondary character in the whole novel, to boot!) Every character is nuanced, every one real and able to make their appeals in a way that didn’t feel like you were drowning in either activism or anti-activism. It was a beautiful presentation.

This is the kind of book that will encourage readers not to charge forward without a plan, but to do the research and to really understand what it is that they’re fighting for and what the costs can be. It presents activism and truth in shades of grey, and gives the reader an all-to-plausible scenario in which the truth can destroy lives, literally and figuratively. It hits you right in the heart and mind and leaves an imprint long after you’ve finished reading. I highly recommend this book, not just to teens who want to make a difference, but to adults who want to do the same, and all who want to learn more about what drives people to do what they do.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Day 21, by Kass Morgan

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 16, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) No one has set foot on Earth in centuries — until now.

It’s been 21 days since the hundred landed on Earth. They’re the only humans to set foot on the planet in centuries…or so they thought. Facing an unknown enemy, Wells attempts to keep the group together. Clarke strikes out for Mount Weather, in search of other Colonists, while Bellamy is determined to rescue his sister, no matter the cost. And back on the ship, Glass faces an unthinkable choice between the love of her life and life itself.

In this pulse-pounding sequel to Kass Morgan’s The 100, secrets are revealed, beliefs are challenged, and relationships are tested. And the hundred will struggle to survive the only way they can — together.

Thoughts: The sequel to The 100, Day 21 picks up a very short time after the previous book ends, with the exiled children still, well, in exile, and the situation on the Colony quickly deteriorating. Oxygen is running out everywhere except the affluent Phoenix section of the Colony, people are dying, and there’s an unmet demand for justice. On Earth, it becomes increasingly apparent that the teens are not alone, and that some of the surviving humans really don’t want the newcomers there.

I want to say that Day 21 is more of the same, that if you liked The 100 then you’ll like this one. And it is, really, and you probably will. The positive aspects of the previous book are stronger here. Unfortunately, the drawback is that some of the weaker aspects are stronger too, resulting in the same lack of balance that caused the first book to suffer so much in my eyes. The story is no longer reliant on flashbacks to carry the weight of development, actually moving the plot forward instead of keeping things at a general standstill, though there still are some flashbacks to continue giving us insight into what made the characters who they are today. There’s more action and thus more tension as opinions divide on how to deal with the Earthborns, and the sickness that’s slowly spreading through the camp.

The dialogue is also stronger, and I think that was due in part to how Morgan neatly sidestepped most situations in which verbal conflict was bound to happen. Most of the arguments between characters last for a line or two and then are either resolved or ignored, which isn’t how people tend to argue. So there was less arguing, which took away a weakness and made the rest of the dialogue seem stronger for it. There are still moments, of course, but they’re fewer and further between here than before, which was good to see.

One thing I didn’t touch on about the previous book is the suspension of disbelief required to accept a few of the major plot elements. The most egregious one comes at the end of The 100, where oxygen is cut off to Walden and Arcadia, and Glass and Luke are stuck in one of the oxygen-deprived areas. With a few hours, effects are being felt. People are getting dizzy. Their lips are turning blue. They’re losing consciousness. But we open on Glass’s perspective here to note that they’re confident they still have a few days of air left (and then have an ironic dinner by candlelight, something that will add to the oxygen depletion). Glass has the brilliant idea to access Phoenix via something she used to use to sneak from section to section in the past: air ducts! Ignoring, of course, that if the air ducts were open, there would actually be access to air. She’s surprised that the air duct she uses is blocked off, but it was blocked off by another person who snuck across, not because of the oxygen cut-off.

In a flashback, Clarke’s father mentions Saudi Arabia, which was actually renamed New Mecca, and he handwaves this gaffe by saying that the country changed names a lot before the Cataclysm that wiped out humanity. Over 300 years ago. Which means that he would have grown up knowing and using the correct name for the country if he referred to it at all, so this was a clear and clumsy attempt to convey information to the reader about Earth’s history. On Earth, some of the teens are falling ill from a mysterious sickness, which Earthborn Sasha eventually gives them the info to conclude is from a berry that grows near the came. She advises them that they should clear the plants so no one eats it, because it’s “very poisonous.” So poisonous, in fact, that without any form of treatment but time, she knows that everyone who ate it will be fine in a week, because you have to eat a really large amount to be sick enough to die. Yeah, that fits the definition of “very poisonous.”

And then there’s the issue of language. I could write a paper on this issue in books, I really could. 300 years separate the Colonists from the Earthborns. And they speak the very same variety of English with no vocabulary or grammar changes, or even an accent that’s tough for characters to follow. I can’t suspend my disbelief on that one. Come on, even today we still have new articles flying around websites to explain the differences between British English and American English, and when some people try to handle Canadian English, they get things wrong. Even assuming that Colonists and Earthborns had access to the same records and so the same written language and history, their spoken language would have diverged over 3 centuries, even just accounting for the vast differences in lifestyle. It’s not clear if everyone in the original Colony spoke English, though there are hints dropped that it was a multi-cultural group, so chances are there would be new words introduced from originating cultures, new words and phrases evolving over time. Ditto for the Earthborns, who spent about 250 years underground before finally coming back to the surface. But everyone communicates just fine with no awkwardness or struggle to understand a single thing.

It’s the little things like that which caused me to raise an eyebrow while reading. Things that weren’t planned that well, or thrown in for effect without considering how they tie in to, well, reality. Between that and the fact that in a few chapters, nothing happened except for watching people watch other characters, it still made the book feel like it was moving at a plodding pace, and most of the interest stayed with Glass and Luke as they fight their way back to Phoenix and then onto a dropship as the rest of the Colony starts falling apart. There’s tension in the Earth segments of the story, too, but much of it feels so distant than it’s hard to feel much concern about. The sickness was focused on by only a single character. A psychopathic killer within the group was revealed very casually at the end, with very little horror and emotion. With the exception of Bellamy, once again I had a hard time caring about what was going on.

This is an average sequel to an average book, with little special to redeem it and make it stand out from better books around it. It’s not bad, really. It’s just not that good. The idea behind the book is more interesting than the book itself. If you want to read a really good book about teenagers thrown onto a supposedly empty world where they have to survive after being expelled from a place with abusive control and population problems, then I recommend Monica Hughes’s Invitation to the Game instead.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)