This third volume of a YA series finds the Ascunse siblings on different planets and at odds thanks to a formidable manipulator.
Fifteen-year-old Tanner and 14-year-old Ryland had been leading normal lives until they learned they were Shifters—aliens endowed with superpowers. They also discovered that Earth is the Lost Colony among a series of 12 planets in an empire ruled by a brutalist named Rian. Now, Tanner and assorted Revolutionaries—including his recently brainwashed girlfriend, Devon Almasta—are on Colony Nine, while Ryland is on Colony Ten. Tanner, Kai (Ryland’s boyfriend), and several others hope to locate Ryland and make strides against the Prophecy that says Shifter youth must be culled lest a chosen one give social primacy to the Ordinaries (those without powers) and imbalance Shifter society. Ryland, meanwhile, becomes under the sway of Atlis, a Shifter with the ability to Push, rearranging a victim’s memories, and by extension, reality. Ryland’s indoctrinated into fascism by assisting in the roundup and execution of 109 Ordinaries. Atlis’ machinations eventually lead her to believe that Rian’s rule is just and that Tanner killed their younger sister. Her increasing violence helps rally the Shifter army, priming her for a lethal confrontation with Tanner and his cohorts. In this third installment, the Pershings (Ordinaries, 2014, etc.) continue to scale back the relatable humor of their debut in favor of military maneuvering and planet-hopping action. Most of the chapters are split between the siblings’ viewpoints, though Devon’s harrowing mental recovery (during which her “teeth clench like a dog sneering at an intruder”) proves dramatically vital. If she can overcome her programming, can’t Ryland? The answer, involving the crafty use of one character’s abilities, is an engaging thread in an otherwise fractious, apocalyptic narrative. The various Colony worlds, potentially alien and imaginative, are instead dismal like the Districts in Hunger Games. If implied bleakness weren’t enough, Tanner calls Atlis “The man I want to kill. The man I need to kill. The man I’m going to kill.” After this YA equivalent of a death metal dirge, it’s hard to imagine what the Pershings will offer next.
Despite this space saga’s few clever turns, readers face a long, dreary trip.