In this YA debut, a teenager learns that she has a long-lost brother and finds herself drawn into galactic warfare.
Sixteen-year-old Victoria Sobin lives in the mining town of Oreville. One evening, she experiences an intense headache accompanied by the image of a hill behind her home. When she climbs the hill, she meets a sleekly handsome young man named Troy. “The time has come to discuss our mother,” he says, irritating Vicky. Her mother has been in a mysterious state since giving birth to her. Troy explains that he’s from the planet Gaia, visiting Earth to find his twin sister. Vicky storms off when he continues to invade her mind telepathically. The next day, her mother glimpses Troy near their home and collapses. Vicky’s mother sinks into a coma, and a week passes. Then Vicky and her best friend, Ming Wu, walk the hills. They encounter Troy, who reveals a spaceship. He takes them to the Brazilian rainforest and to Chinese caves, where the girls breathe in a purple mist. Troy admits to testing whether or not they might survive Gaia’s atmosphere. Vicky is enraged but listens as he describes his society as one that has genetically eliminated emotions to prevent war. But an old enemy threatens the planet, and it needs soldiers—which is why human/Gaian hybrids like Troy exist. And yet the experiments that led to Troy and Vicky being born on the same day were flawed. Vicky has been summoned to Gaia to help facilitate a planetary defense against the spiderlike ships of the Araneans.
Appealing to both adult and YA audiences, Darmanin’s novel employs rich characterization, breakneck plotting, and a dystopian filigree that would make Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games series) raise an eyebrow. When readers learn that Gaia once upon a time aggressively colonized the galaxy with military might, thoughts will likely turn to ancient Rome and the United States. Later, Vicky sees bland, utilitarian Gaian dwellings where people live cut off from one another (they have no emotions and little reason to interact) and nature (the environment has been ruined). She thinks: “No matter how many tests these people run on me, they’ll never find an answer to their problems.” The author brightens this dour tableau with eye-popping visuals, as when her protagonists reach space to find “a planet whose twenty-plus moons follow fluorescent orbits, making the whole thing look like a psychedelic atom.” The Araneans are rather enjoyable villains, since their ships resemble spiders and attack like mechanical space tarantulas. But the narrative’s primary thrust is a deeply intellectual one. With passion removed from the Gaians, not only do they abstain from war, but they also make no art and have no sense of self-preservation. Bleaker horizons have been seen in The Time Machine and Brave New World, but Darmanin has much more fun. A device that can infinitely customize someone’s appearance helps shape the finale, hinting that this author is eager to flex her imagination in a sequel.
An all-ages solar flare of a tale involving a planetary threat.