Having survived the gladiatorial university entrance exam in The Testing (2013), Cia and her childhood friends begin studying to become leading rebuilders of their post-apocalyptic society.
Cia’s demanding academic schedule is punctuated by a series of inventive and harrowing hazing challenges that deliver a combination of physical and psychological dangers that are reminiscent of The Testing. Success (and survival) again requires physical strength, mental clarity and recall of academic information. Unsurprisingly, some of Cia’s fellow students resent her consistently strong performances and her steady refusal to win by sacrificing others. The school’s cutthroat culture breeds opportunities for betrayal, and Cia must constantly be wary, even of offers of assistance. However, because her potential enemies are basically strangers, the prospect of betrayal is less traumatizing than her experience during The Testing, when she suspected her childhood friends of treachery and violence. In fact, returning readers anticipating a fiery confrontation among Cia, Tomas and Will may be disappointed to find these previous conflicts largely relegated to the background. Regardless, a charged atmosphere still results from the compelling mix of new lies, double crosses and increasingly menacing government figures focused on destroying Cia.
Though this novel feels at times a bit too much like an extended setup for the final installment, shocking last-minute revelations about a potential rebellion against the government will leave many readers eagerly anticipating the series conclusion. (Dystopian adventure. 12-18)