Violent teen dystopias are nothing new, but this debut, in which every character is or soon will be a killer, kicks it up a notch.
Ever since a vaccine gone wrong rendered the population sterile, humans have been bioengineered. In the well-fortified city-state of Kersh, the ruling Board creates a genetic double (Alt) for every newborn; they are raised in separate families. Sometime between the ages of 10 and 20, each Alt is “assigned” without notice to kill the other within 30 days; if neither succeeds, the Board terminates both. (The rationale—breeding a population of soldiers to repel invasion—makes little sense.) Successful killers (“completes”) move on guilt-free to better food, schools, marriages and careers. When their friend Chord gets his assignment, Luc’s efforts to keep his sister, West, from involving herself end disastrously. Remorseful, West takes up contract killing. Fighting back, overthrowing the Board or sabotaging the system never occur to her, even as a fantasy. A few characters condemn class privilege (rich Alts can afford better training and hired killers) but rebel, puzzlingly, by becoming hired killers themselves. No one finds the price of safety too high to accept.
Readers untroubled by brutal, compassion-free violence will find plenty to admire in Chapman’s gamer pacing, clever suspense—here, stalking is a two-way street—and fast-mounting body count. (Dystopian adventure. 12 & up)