Kincaid’s sequel to Insignia (2012) moves beyond derivative fun to real depth.
Ever-rebellious Tom Raines has advanced with his pals Vik and Wyatt to Middle Company at the Pentagonal Spire. They’ve reached the level where they need to cultivate corporate sponsors in order to join the elite virtual warriors who conduct the ongoing space-based war between the Russo-Chinese and Indo-American alliances for control of the moon. Tom may be preternaturally great at virtual-war skillz, but he is horrible at sucking up and almost immediately alienates every single multinational corporate head he needs to impress. Meanwhile, Tom continues to pursue his odd but intense secret relationship with crack Russo-Chinese combatant Medusa and begins to suspect that Yuri, their Russian friend at the Spire, whom Wyatt “unscrambled” in the first book, may not be as innocent as they had thought. Kincaid lays a lot down, twining her increasingly complex plot and characterizations with Tom’s growing awareness of the poisonous “military-industrial-media complex.” As Eisenhower feared, it has made war a way of life that enriches a very few and impoverishes the many—one corporate head has bought Yosemite as his own private playground, one of many unsubtle but all-too-plausible symbols Tom contemplates. Action fans, fear not: For all the deep thinking Tom and readers undertake, pace, adventure and fun are not compromised one whit.
A surprisingly and satisfyingly rich middle volume in a trilogy that exceeds popcorn expectations. (Science fiction. 13-16)
An assassin with a will of steel fights her way through deadly palace deceptions, sickening sexual servitude and baffling assignments from her convent, becoming a major player in Brittany’s 15th-century resistance of French occupation.
Readers last glimpsed Sybella through Ismae’s eyes (Grave Mercy, 2012), serving in the entourage of d’Albret, a bloodthirsty Breton noble. Unknown to Ismae, Sybella is d’Albret’s daughter, raised in a household in which her kindest brother demanded sex from her and their father murdered wife after wife. Now Sybella’s a trained assassin, serving Mortain, the god of Death. In a castle that d’Albret stole from Brittany’s steadfast 13-year-old duchess, Sybella waits to see a marque on d’Albret’s body so she can kill him with Mortain’s grace. Living there requires a soul-breaking dance of flirtation and survival, and she is never safe. Is Mortain her real father, and has he rejected her? When an unexpected assignment arrives—a rescue, shockingly, not an assassination—it requires all of Sybella’s physical and emotional strength and stealth, plus the use of her sterling assassin skills in active battle. LaFevers weaves the “crazed, tangled web” of Sybella’s life (including her tortured past) with force, suspense and subtle tenderness. The prose’s beauty inspires immediate re-reads of many a sentence, but its forward momentum is irresistible.
An intricate, masterful page-turner about politics, treachery, religion, love and healing.
(map, list of characters, author’s note)
(Historical fantasy. 14 & up)
This exhilarating finale to the dystopian Legend trilogy delivers on the promises of the genre without ever being predictable about details.
June and Day are finally on the right side of the law, but nothing’s gotten any easier. June, the former soldier, is now one of three Princeps-Elect, next in line to lead the Senate. Day, “most-wanted-criminal-turned-national-hero,” is now the face of popular support for the young Elector. The future’s dazzlingly bright, right? In fact, from their high perches, June and Day can see everything about to go horrifyingly wrong. The Elector knows the Colonies are about to invade, and he thinks a plague cure will save the day—a cure he’s convinced they’ll discover by experimenting on Day’s brother, Eden. Day will never let the Republic have his brother again; he barely got Eden back alive after the first time they took him for medical experiments. On the other hand, since Day is dying, it’s not clear what he can do for Eden or the Republic. Brief international travel expands the worldbuilding of this universe: June and Day had encountered the capitalist dystopia of the Colonies in Prodigy (2012), while June here encounters the seemingly more idyllic society-as-game of Ross City, Antarctica. A civilization run as if it were “The Sims” is intriguing, and it’s disappointing that June spends little time there, but there’s plenty of betrayal and action to resolve back in the Republic.
Ever respectful of the capacity of its readers, this series offers a satisfying conclusion of potential rather than a neatly wrapped denouement
. (Science fiction. 13-16)
Some call Habo a zeruzeru—a zero-zero—nothing. Others willingly pursue the riches his albino body parts will bring on the black market in Sullivan’s intense debut.
With his white skin, shaky, blue, unfocused eyes and yellow hair, 13-year-old Habo fits nowhere in his chocolate-brown Tanzanian family—not with his brothers who shun him, nor even with his mother, who avoids his touch. Did this bad-luck child even cause his father to abandon him at his birth? Only Habo’s sister, Asu, protects and nurtures him. Poverty forces the family from their rural home near Arusha to Mwanza, hundreds of miles away, to stay with relatives. After their bus fare runs out, they hitch a ride across the Serengeti with an ivory poacher who sees opportunity in Habo. Forced to flee for his life, the boy eventually becomes an apprentice to Kweli, a wise, blind carver in urban Dar es Salaam. The stark contrasts Habo experiences on his physical journey to safety and his emotional journey to self-awareness bring his growth into sharp relief while informing readers of a social ill still prevalent in East Africa. Thankfully for readers as well as Habo, the blind man’s appreciation challenges Habo to prove that he is worth more alive than dead. His present-tense narration is keenly perceptive and eschews self-pity.
A riveting fictional snapshot of one Tanzanian boy who makes himself matter.
A chilling exploration of the life, motivations and strategies of a young American suicide bomber.
Valkyrie (née Valley) White is on a mission to wake up everyone. Her statement of purpose recorded and media-ready, she departs the survivalist camp where she and her brother Bo live, but when her driver detonates their truck bomb too early, Valkyrie sets off on her own to complete the mission. Through brief chapters alternating between the past and present, readers learn about Valley and Bo’s childhood in Montana’s backwoods, where their Da trained them to be self-sufficient and deeply wary of the world outside their land. After Valley and Bo’s mother, Mabby, dies in what they believe was a black-helicopter attack authorized by Those People in the government, Da insists that the children learn paramilitary and bomb-building skills along with chess and how to read. In the present, Valkyrie uses Da’s lessons to manipulate a teenage boy into driving to an opportune place for her to detonate her vest. Woolston’s slow, tense revelation of the full horror of what the adults in Valkyrie’s life have wrought in and through her is breathtaking. Readers who may have previously associated suicide bombers with religious fanaticism will be fascinated by Valkyrie’s totally secular but equally single-minded devotion to anti-government rhetoric and revenge.
Eighteen-year-old Judith Finch gradually reveals the horror of her two-year disappearance in a stunning historical murder mystery and romance.
One summer four years ago, Judith Finch and her friend Lottie Pratt disappeared. After two years, only Judith returned. Lottie’s naked body was found in the river, and Judith stumbled back on her own, her appearance shocking the town—not just because she had returned, but that her tongue had been cut out, and she can’t tell anyone what happened to her. Illiterate, maimed, cursed, doomed to be an outsider but always and forever in love with Lucas Whiting, Judith finds a way to tell her story, saying, “I don’t believe in miracles, but if the need is great, a girl might make her own miracle,” and as her story unfolds, all the truth that’s in her is revealed. Set in what seems to be early-18th-century North America, the story is told through the voice inside Judith’s head—simple and poetic, full of hurt and yearning, and almost always directed toward Lucas in a haunting, mute second person. Every now and then, a novel comes along with such an original voice that readers slow down to savor the poetic prose. This is such a story.
A tale of uncommon elegance, power and originality.
(Historical thriller. 12 & up)
Stationed in Afghanistan, medic Ben spends a long day drafting a detailed confession about the tragedy that threw his life off course two years earlier.
When the tiny town of Merit, Wis., loses its football hero to a drunk-driving accident, his family needs help on their dairy farm. High school senior Ben steps up to help. His mother hopes it’ll give him fodder for his Yale admissions essay; Ben, unsure he wants to follow the path she’s laid out for him, just likes helping the stern Mr. and Mrs. Lange and their 15-year-old son, Jimmy. When Jimmy wins a national photography contest with sensual photographs of his own father and Ben (both taken without permission), rumors that the baby-faced Jimmy is gay jump into overdrive—and start circulating about Ben, who then distances himself from Jimmy. When Ben witnesses a horrific crime and does nothing, his life spins out of control; he begins to doubt himself, his senses, his motives…even his connection to reality. Bick’s compelling tale manages to be a blistering confessional and a page-turning whodunit (or maybe what-really-happened) all in one. Ben’s thoughts on sexuality, the dangers of rumor, individual freedom and personal responsibility, among other topics, will resonate with teens, who won’t mind the lack of a tidy end.
Readers won’t be able to look away even if they find they don’t much like—or trust—Ben.
(Fiction. 14 & up)