It’s not exactly a meet-cute.
Despite a cease-fire, the planet of Avon is only a hair’s breadth from tipping into open war, so it’s not surprising that two characters from opposing sides have an unfriendly first encounter when they meet in a bar. It’s unsettling that when Flynn, a white teen from a community of rebels living in hidden caves, uses a gun and gasoline fumes to kidnap Lee, a brown-skinned, partly Chinese military officer with a combat specialty, readers are expected to accept Flynn’s physical dominance. Readers unperturbed by this early dynamic—later, Lee becomes more kickass, and her competence equalizes with Flynn’s—will find a fast-paced adventure, though enjoyment requires accepting that a forceful kidnapping is a fine start to an oh-but-they’re-enemies romance. Alternating first-person narration, Flynn and Lee overcome wariness to work together, coping with barbarous mind manipulation, horrific violence and mysteries—like why Avon’s terraforming never progresses to become an ecosystem and how an unidentified compound of buildings repeatedly vanishes into midair. The bad guy and his methods—mind control of humans via torture of aliens from another realm—carry forward from series opener These Broken Stars (2013), and its protagonists have cameos here.
The cringe-worthy romantic setup chafes, but on the plus side, this soft science fiction offers intense, nongratuitous bloodshed, corporate conspiracy and intriguing explorations of culpability. (Science fiction. 13 & up)