A young woman prone to violence tracks down her genius sister—who’s been abducted by an enigmatic group for unknown reasons—in this debut novel.
When police officers pull 13-year-old Gabby Morningstar out of class, she suspects bad news. Indeed, she learns her father is dead, but the detective who escorts her from the school isn’t taking her home or anywhere she wants to go. He instead drops her off with strangers, who have clearly paid the detective to do so. A man named Mr. Chad tells Gabby he’s sending her to the Alpha-Bravo Training Camp, a prescreening for H-17—“A different sort of place,” he cryptically explains. Gabby’s older sister, Nikki, meanwhile, hears of her sibling’s kidnapping. While Gabby’s superior intelligence has made their parents proud, Nikki, a recurrent runaway, was the problem child. Showing signs of mental instability, the now homeless, feral Nikki often lashes out at the slightest provocation. But her physical strength is without question, which men much larger than she is sometimes learn the hard way. Searching for her sister entails Nikki extracting information in particularly brutal fashion and leads her to a list of H-17 recruits. These “candidates” come with price tags, with Gabby marked as a tier-four recruit, one who’s evidently in high demand. As Gabby becomes a standout trainee and later a platoon leader, Nikki assumes someone else’s identity to get herself into Alpha-Bravo. She likewise excels at training and hopes to be a worthy commando on her way to reuniting with Gabby.
While there are occasional indications of peril throughout, much of Vickers’ tale revolves around the development of the two curious sisters. Gabby, for example, despite her young age, is charismatic. She is generally modest regarding her remarkable intelligence and gains confidence as the story progresses, even facing off against bullies at the camp. Nikki, in contrast, is unlikable; she’s unfazed by violence and, in some instances, she unmistakably revels in it. She’s nevertheless quite intriguing, sometimes displaying a childlike quality; her ultimate goal in becoming a “kickass soldier or whatever” is to impress her younger sister, whom she affectionately calls Gabs. The author’s gloomy prose is perfectly suited to a story of abduction, ferocity, and unnatural death. Barons, a music club Nikki frequents, is graphically described: “Black netting covered the black walls. Holes and cigarette burns covered a corduroy love seat that appeared to have soaked up every flavor of alcohol and vomit and other excretions.” Specifics on H-17 are typically vague, and the most revealing moments actually involve the sisters’ back story, which somewhat expounds on Gabby’s brains and Nikki’s brawn. Moreover, the ending hints at a possible continuation, so further elucidations conceivably await in a sequel. The book unfortunately suffers from some repetition, primarily in dialogue. Nikki’s coarse language is lacking in variety; she repeatedly hurls the same insults or expletive-laden complaints at others. Similarly, multiple characters refer to Nikki as a gremlin, and dub boring people as “bobble heads” (or variations of the term).
A rather peculiar but engrossing journey for two extraordinary siblings.