A page-turner for genre fans, despite few real surprises.

OBSIDIAN

From the Lux series , Vol. 1

In Armentrout’s (The Darkest Star, 2018, etc.) first YA sci-fi romance novel in a series, the boy next door is super-attractive, insufferable, and a space alien—and he has enemies.

After Katy Swartz’s father died three years ago, she and her mother moved from Gainesville, Florida, to tiny Ketterman, West Virginia. Katy’s senior year of high school is about to begin, and her mom suggests that she say hello to her teenage neighbors, a brother and sister named Daemon and Dee Black. Although Katy, who’s now 17, would rather be reading or writing her blog, she remembers her father’s advice: “Come on, Kittycat, don’t be a bystander.” Two things quickly become apparent about Daemon, though: “He was probably the hottest guy I’d ever seen in real life, and he was a total douche.” However, Dee is eager to be friends with Katy, and she explains Daemon’s rudeness as a product of his overprotectiveness. Something is strange, though, about the town of Ketterman, including reports of “people-shaped things of light.” The amazing truth is that the Blacks, and other local residents, are aliens, and they have extraterrestrial adversaries who are out to destroy them. However, no matter how much Daemon tries to keep Katy out of the fight, she remains determined not to be a bystander. Armentrout employs some fairly standard genre tropes, such as an obviously very attractive female protagonist who refuses to believe that she is, and a love interest who’s a specimen of over-the-top physical perfection. The couple’s love-hate romance dynamic is nothing new, either, although many readers will enjoy how the relationship builds and enjoy some steamy scenes. Armentrout’s writing is solid, and she provides Katy with a believable voice. A few sly references indicate that the author is quite aware of her genre’s conventions: “You’ve been an angst-ridden teenage girl, like the kind in the books I read”; “You don’t sparkle, do you?” The story is well-paced throughout, and the sci-fi elements provide some freshness, setting groundwork for future installments. (Bonus chapters, told from Daemon’s point of view, are also included.)

A page-turner for genre fans, despite few real surprises.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-62061-007-7

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

MALICE

This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

A GIFT OF POISON

From the The Kingmakers' War series , Vol. 1

A girl who has been dismissed and distrusted for most of her life must prove herself in this quest novel.

Briand Varryda dresses like a boy and is the unwanted ward of her uncle. Denied education and often even food, she realizes that her only friends are her cousin Bran and, sometimes, the soldier Tibus. Briand can look after herself: She’s good with a knife and light on her feet. But this time, she’s in real trouble. Briand has cleaned out one soldier too many at the card game Dubbok. When Tibus saves her from vengeful pursuers, he has no choice but to then turn her over to Kael, steward of her uncle’s castle—who has a reputation for cruelty and who, with the help of Bran’s loathsome tutor, Nath, is conducting secret experiments involving young noblemen and poisonous snakes. Kael gives her one last chance. Briand tries to go straight; she attempts to do the right thing. But when she intervenes in one of Kael’s experiments, she gets more than she bargained for. By passing a test meant for Bran, Briand becomes a “dragonsayer,” with “the ability to speak to and sometimes control animals of magic, particularly dragons.” From despised guttersnipe, she has now risen to being the kingdom’s last hope against the usurper prince and his deadly Seekers—but that’s no reason for her companions to think any better of her. In this short novel, Ellison (With Tide and Tempest, 2014, etc.) takes fantasy tropes and makes them feel original. The same achievement can be seen in characterization. Briand and all the others are easily recognizable types but still seem unique. Briand, in particular, is somehow not the typical orphan who makes good. This is made possible by the author’s no-nonsense prose and pacing and some astute worldbuilding. The necessary background details (with the exception of some that find their way into speech) are foreshadowed rather than dumped. This allows Briand to forge her own path and for the story to grip and take hold. Although this is the first book in a series, the plot is largely self-contained. Readers will be left with closure but still wanting more.

Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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