Celine Red Cloud, first girl born to a human colony on Mars, teams up with Alexander, an untrustworthy visiting rich kid, on a dangerous expedition to find her father, lost somewhere in the mysterious Martian terrain.
Hunter’s debut is an assured YA sci-fi novel despite fuzzy science that morphs into fantasy and magic whenever convenient (or inconvenient) to the plot. Hundreds of years in the future, adolescent Celine is the only juvenile in a struggling Mars colony. Having been born there, she is literally the first “Martian girl.” But her life is in upheaval. Her father disappeared while scouting for mineral deposits, and the settlement’s shady safety director seems less interested in finding him than in courting Celine’s mom. The colony’s disappointed financier, tycoon Alexander Rittenhouse, visits from Earth to determine the unproductive compound’s future. Celine latches onto teen Alex Rittenhouse—the older man’s clone-cum-son—assuming he’ll have the resources to help her locate Dad. But Alex (whose money has also made him a reality TV superstar) is a spoiled, sneaky knockoff of his father, and the boy’s feelings for Celine are mixed with scorn and interest for ratings and self-aggrandizement as they head for the sandstorm-swept, volcanic Martian canyons on an unauthorized, dangerous rescue attempt. Moreover, Celine is having flashes of heightened senses and glowing eyes. Is she becoming something not quite human? Adding a multicultural flavor, as well as a layer of occult spirituality, is the fact that Celine and her father share a Cherokee heritage, and she communes shamanistically long-distance with a grandmother on Earth. Although the plot wraps up satisfactorily, Hunter throws readers curveballs (or curvemeteors, take your choice) with a rather puzzling time-related plot twist and suggestions of generations-old eugenics experiments, military conspiracies, even a pre-existing Martian civilization persisting like ghosts (à la Ray Bradbury) that affects Earth’s visitors, both human and animal. The result is an entertaining SF-adventure narrative that nonetheless raises as many questions as it answers, possibly laying groundwork for a sequel.
A well-paced, diverting Mars-survival adventure with a wobbly blend of science and mystical fantasy.