Centuries after the Omniwar left much of the planet uninhabitable, Maximum Racing, the pre-eminent extreme sport, delivers vicarious thrills on reality TV; winning a race with a homebuilt car earns two teens in a remote, hardscrabble town a chance to race against professionals and star in the world’s deadliest competition.
Cassica and Shiara move to Anchor City, where a space elevator rises to Olympus. There, Celestials (rich and famous celebrities) live in luxury, their lives broadcast and obsessively followed below. Racers in teams of two (a driver and tech) hurtle across terrain scarred by ancient, orbital weapons and occupied by mutated creatures and damaged humans. Deadly nanobot particles hide in dust. Designated Wreckers follow the racers, their role to hunt and take out competitors. Though underfunded and unsponsored, Cassica and Shiara (both depicted as light-skinned on the cover) make a strong team. Cassica, a charismatic, fiercely competitive risk-taker, drives. Thoughtful Shiara, with mechanical skills and engineering know-how, is tech. They set their sights on competing in the Widowmaker, a three-day race, fatal for many but whose winners become Celestials. Exposure to new Omniwar horrors and the discovery that all is not as it seems in the glitzy city test their friendship to the breaking point. Though Wooding does not stint on the action, empathetic characterization and an emotional throughline help Cassica and Shiara bring their world to life for readers.
An action-packed, wild ride with unexpected twists and turns and characters readers care about—call it a dystopia with heart. (Science fiction. 12-18)