A grim, knotty, thought-provoking SF tale.

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In this YA novel, a group of teenagers fights to understand, survive, and break free from a near-future dystopia predicated on total ignorance.

After her father’s death, Juniper sets out for Denver. She arrives injured, repressing the traumatic events that claimed her sister and left Juniper pregnant. Her entry into the city disrupts the Network, the all-pervasive artificial intelligence that oversees humanity’s degradation. The disruption allows Calvin (avatar name: Doc) to abscond from the deadly, immersive video game that he and others play for extra privileges and the entertainment of the masses. Freed from his gritty gilded cage, he rescues Juniper and finds an abandoned apartment for her to stay in. In return, she begins teaching him to read—the gravest sin in a society where “goners” are left naked and illiterate on the streets, sustained by food handouts and a diet of violent reality viewing. One of Calvin’s fellow gamers called Roscoe (avatar name: the Kid) finds that he can not only read the chatting between Network units but also surreptitiously contribute to it. With Juniper digging into the tragic events that brought about society’s commitment to policed ignorance, can the teens spark a revolution? Lane delivers an omniscient past-tense narrative that incorporates not only Juniper’s, Calvin’s, and Roscoe’s viewpoints, but also vast batches of Network dialogue. Such dialogue provides clues about what’s happening—the author takes an immersive approach to storytelling, holding back exposition until late in the piece—but may prove a little too scattershot for some readers. The scenario is unremitting in its bleakness: a totalitarian reductio ad absurdum that’s even more unsettling for being revealed as the end product of current societal tendencies. The teen protagonists prove to be relatable, though more on an allegorical level (as they grope blindly through a world whose rules make no sense) than as traditional narrative agents. Minor characters—such as poor, clueless Itch-ass—also make an impression. The story is dense and takes some wading through. Lane’s prose, though assured, offers the occasional odd phrasing, such as the Trail Boss “asserting” the Schoolmarm back into her wagon or Juniper “assorting” the books. Given the worldview presented, perhaps these snippets have been seeded deliberately to make readers think. Certainly, the book as a whole will achieve this purpose.

A grim, knotty, thought-provoking SF tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9780998435671

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2023


From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023


From the Blood and Tea series , Vol. 1

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner.

Bestselling author Faizal returns to the universe of We Hunt the Flame (2019) with a stand-alone duology opener.

Orphaned Arthie, brown-skinned with mauve hair, has created a criminal empire out of sheer pluck despite being Ceylani in Ettenia, where laws favor white people. She pulled legendary pistol Calibore from a stone plinth (though the prophecy that doing so would make her the nation’s leader turned out to be a hoax). She’s also built Spindrift, a teahouse-cum-bloodhouse, where she gathers secrets from wealthy humans and vampires, amassing power and security. Now Arthie has her sights set on vengeance—and the Ram, Ettenia’s masked monarch. When she and Jin, her brother-by-choice (who’s cued East Asian), are drawn into a heist, they assemble a diverse crew of immigrants whose roles riff on genre archetypes. The lush prose pulses with feeling as revelations are dropped and the tension ratchets up, keeping the pages turning as the motley gang plans to infiltrate a vampire society, retrieve a stolen ledger, and double-cross one of the Ram’s guards (who might be planning to double-cross them). Their ultimate goal: taking down the colonizing Ettenians and the exploitative East Jeevant Company. It’s all very exciting right up to the action-packed finale, which promises more conspiracy and (hopefully) justice to come. This compelling read offers interesting commentary on our society while feeling entirely real within the context of its own worldbuilding.

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9780374389406

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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