A gritty thriller that puts the downside of superpowers into bracingly relatable terms.

VELOCITY BLUES

In Johns’ YA SF novel, a genetically modified youth vies with others to retain possession of a mystery package.

The author envisions a near-future Chicago in which ambitious parents employed new drugs and DNA manipulations to produce fast-thinking, high-achieving progeny but instead birthed a misfit generation of “Energy” kids, also known as “E’s” or “Fleas.” These young adults indeed have above-average reaction times, muscular coordination, and agility but also suffer from attention deficits, mood disorders, sleep deprivation, sterility, and sociopathic tendencies, and they take special nutritional supplements and medication. The loose community of E youth are outcasts, shunned by the rest of society, whom they refer to as “Slugs”; however, some manage to eke out livings as couriers for criminal types. In Chicago, Zane,who goes by the nickname “Zip,” is tasked by gangsters to deliver a seemingly ordinary package, but some hostile force reaches Bolt, the intended recipient, first and threatens Zip, who flees. Zip is left with a very hot item and endless questions about whom to trust as well as intrusive thoughts about math problems, names for cats, the economics of the lumber industry, and whatever else intrudes on his mind. Such excessive rumination could have made the material a chore to read, but Johns keeps things under firm control with a largely chase-based plotline that stays fairly straightforward until the introduction of an array of last-act betrayals and twists. The story also features a love interest who seems hopelessly treacherous; this suits the prose, which also feels like something out of a hard-boiled detective story: “Ratchet winced when I mentioned Jbird. The sound of her neck breaking would be with us for a while.” The notion that heartless helicopter parenting brought on these superkids is a potent one, and it will give the material some cred with YA readers. Meanwhile, the swearing and sexuality stay in the PG-13 range.

A gritty thriller that puts the downside of superpowers into bracingly relatable terms.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952283-12-3

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Vernacular Books

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2021

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How can such a hefty tome be un-put-down-able excitement from beginning to end? (glossary) (Fantasy. 14 & up)

CROOKED KINGDOM

From the Six of Crows series , Vol. 2

This hefty sequel to Six of Crows (2015) brings high-tension conclusions to the many intertwined intrigues of Ketterdam.

It's time for revenge—has been ever since old-before-his-time crook Kaz and his friends were double-crossed by the merchant princes of Ketterdam, an early-industrial Amsterdam-like fantasy city filled to the brim with crime and corruption. Disabled, infuriated, and perpetually scheming Kaz, the light-skinned teen mastermind, coordinates the efforts to rescue Inej. Though Kaz is loath to admit weakness, Inej is his, for he can't bear any harm come to the knife-wielding, brown-skinned Suli acrobat. Their team is rounded out by Wylan, a light-skinned chemist and musician whose merchant father tried to have him murdered and who can't read due to a print disability; Wylan's brown-skinned biracial boyfriend, Jesper, a flirtatious gambler with ADHD; Nina, the pale brunette Grisha witch and recovering addict from Russia-like Ravka; Matthias, Nina's national enemy and great love, a big, white, blond drüskelle warrior from the cold northern lands; and Kuwei, the rescued Shu boy everyone wants to kidnap. Can these kids rescue everyone who needs rescuing in Ketterdam's vile political swamp? This is dark and violent—one notable scene features a parade of teens armed with revolvers, rifles, pistols, explosives, and flash bombs—but gut-wrenchingly genuine. Astonishingly, Bardugo keeps all these balls in the air over the 500-plus pages of narrative.

How can such a hefty tome be un-put-down-able excitement from beginning to end? (glossary) (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-213-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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An inventive, character-driven twist breathes new life into tired fantasy trends.

RED QUEEN

From the Red Queen series , Vol. 1

Amid a war and rising civil unrest, a young thief discovers the shocking power within her that sparks a revolution.

At 17, Mare knows that without an apprenticeship or job, her next birthday will bring a conscription to join the war. She contributes to her poor family’s income the only way she can, stealing from the Silvers, who possess myriad powers and force her and her fellow Reds into servitude. The Silvers literally bleed silver, and they can manipulate metal, plants and animals, among many other talents. When Mare’s best friend, Kilorn, loses his job and is doomed to conscription, she is determined to change his fate. She stumbles into a mysterious stranger after her plan goes awry and is pulled out of her village and into the world of Silver royalty. Once inside the palace walls, it isn’t long before Mare learns that powers unknown to red-blooded humans lie within her, powers that could lead a revolution. Familiar tropes abound. Mare is revealed as a great catalyst for change among classes and is groomed from rags to riches, and of course, seemingly kind characters turn out to be foes. However, Aveyard weaves a compelling new world, and Mare and the two men in her life evolve intriguingly as class tension rises. Revolution supersedes romance, setting the stage for action-packed surprises.

An inventive, character-driven twist breathes new life into tired fantasy trends. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-231063-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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