Anna and the boys are still on the run from the Branch, the mysterious organization that shaped them into human weapons of mass destruction (Altered, 2013).
Grocery shopping and training for combat, they hide out in a cozy cabin like a heavily armed Snow White and three dwarves, their uneasy domesticity troubled by flashbacks of pre-Branch life. Anna’s primary concern is with the family she’d forgotten: her sister, Dani, and their parents. Learning that Dani is alive and held by the Branch, Anna seeks help from Trev, the fourth boy, admitted Branch agent and questionable ally, to free her. As flashbacks proliferate, the dizzying plot twists and turns (or, like Anna and Nick’s intense relationship, is left dangling). Key developments pivot on characters readers haven’t met or are delivered in lumps of “while you were sleeping” exposition. Combat aside, Anna’s fairly passive: experiencing flashbacks, reading files, listening to witnesses describe events that occurred long before the story’s present timeline. The frantic pacing and underdeveloped characters are dizzying, distancing, occasionally boring—like hearing a detailed account of someone’s dreams—so dramatic events (and an accumulating body count) that should move readers have little emotional resonance. Building suspense is Rush’s strong suit, but, less earth-shattering than foreshadowed, the tidy resolution feels like false advertising.
Lowering the stakes and piling on the violence makes for a disappointing sequel. (Science fiction. 12 & up)