An often appealing series continuation with a well-thought-out world and strong characters.


From the The Prodigy Chronicles series , Vol. 2

A teenage heiress with superpowers learns to handle her temper in this YA dystopian sequel.

In the year 2160, “prodigies”—people born with very special talents—live in wealthy city centers called Cores, and rule over “normals,” who live in poor villages of the Outlying Lands. Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent grew up in one such village, thinking herself a normal. But her life was upended when she discovered that she’s actually the daughter of a powerful Core family, the Roanokes, and betrothed to Thess Tiernam, the scion of a rival house. Willow also learned that she has powerful skills—specifically, an often angry presence that she feels in her stomach, which she calls her “tiger,” that gives her intuition, physical strength, and a heightened sense of smell, among other abilities. Willow doesn’t know the cultural rules in her new world, and although she vows to learn “to play the Core’s game,” her stubbornness and temper could cause her problems. She has some allies, such as Cmdr. Reece,with whom she shares a strong if volatile attraction, but also enemies, such as the cold, harsh Cmdr. Kristoffe. The wild card is Tobias “Toby” Cartier, a mesmerizing shape-shifter whom everyone but Willow’s tiger tells her not to trust. As Willow hones her skills and acclimates to the Core, she comes to realize that she, too, can adapt in unexpected ways. Denault (Gambit, 2015) continues to offer three-dimensional worldbuilding in this series installment, including richly detailed clothing and combat and plenty of asides that conjure up the future culture. Willow never learned to write, for example, because in villages, most paper goes to the bank, “where recordkeeping was required for taxing villagers. If supplies were low…they bleached old records to make blanks.” This lengthy sequel is entertaining and full of dramatic episodes, but it doesn’t significantly advance the plot; instead, it focuses on the tug of war between Willow and her opponents. The ending doesn’t offer a clear-cut resolution, but it will presumably arrive in a future installment.

An often appealing series continuation with a well-thought-out world and strong characters.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-7344441-5-5

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2019

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A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

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From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 1

Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.

A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7242-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Fear the reaper(s)…but relish this intelligent and entertaining blend of dark humor and high death tolls.


From the Arc of a Scythe series , Vol. 2

Death proves impermanent in this sequel to Scythe (2016).

In a world run by the (almost) all-powerful and (almost) omniscient artificial intelligence Thunderhead, only the Honorable Scythes deal permanent death to near-immortal humans. Yet a growing contingent of scythes, feared and flattered by society and operating outside the Thunderhead’s control, are proving rather dishonorable. No longer apprentices, 18-year-olds Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch realize “the scythedom is…high school with murder” as they watch their fellow scythes jockey for power and prestige. Citra now gleans as Scythe Anastasia, questioning the status quo but also opposing the homicidally enthusiastic “new-order” scythes and their dangerous demagogue. Self-appointed as Scythe Lucifer, Rowan hunts other scythes whom he deems corrupt. Meanwhile, the existentially troubled Thunderhead questions its role as both creation and caretaker of humanity, sworn not to take life but fearing that its utopia will otherwise collapse into dystopia. Nationality and race are minimally mentioned—ethnic biases and genocide are considered very gauche—yet a population that defies death, aging, sickness, poverty, and war risks becoming bleakly homogenous, alleviated only by “unsavories” and scythes. This sequel digs deeper into Shusterman’s complex world and complicated characters, offering political maneuvering, fatal conspiracies, and impending catastrophe via a slowly unfurling plot and startling bursts of action.

Fear the reaper(s)…but relish this intelligent and entertaining blend of dark humor and high death tolls. (Science fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4424-7245-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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