In Forest’s (The Poisoned City, 2016) futuristic middle-grade novel, children with robotic avatars work to stop a power-hungry hacker.
In the 22nd century, humanity has colonized several planets and moons of the solar system. People sleep in pods on Earth while remotely controlling robotic bodies that can look like anyone or anything. The calculations-obsessed Kade Walker, who’s “12.9 years old,” is the official social companion of Princess Tamika Bell of Venus, and they both have their own avatars. The 14-year-old princess’s family has a tarnished reputation because her mother, Azra, is considered a traitor throughout the colonies. Ten years ago, Azra “handed over a high-level clearance code” to the power-hungry Dolores Fremont, who tried to take over human civilization. Kade wants to rehabilitate Tamika’s image, so he hacks into the colonies’ teleportation system; he and Tamika secretly visit Neptune’s moon Triton, where they meet Prince Brend and his royal companion, Naida Snow. Brend throws a party that becomes dangerous when a dragon misbehaves. Then Kade and Tamika learn that Brend, who’s asleep on Earth, isn’t actually controlling his own bot. It turns out that Dolores is free from her stasis imprisonment and making another play for the colonies. In this sci-fi romp, Forest offers a classic dynamic—precocious youngsters outsmarting wicked adults—and intriguing worldbuilding details. Her planet-hopping avatars, as in video games, needn’t be strictly human, so she gives Kade’s claws, wings, and horns, like a gargoyle, while Naida’s is reminiscent of a mermaid. Even stranger, the author establishes that the kids don't have a notion of what death is; Kade “wondered what happened if someone got a very large cut and spilled blood faster than their body could re-make it. Would the person just deflate like a balloon?” It’s an aspect of the kids’ utopian society that Forest doesn’t fully explore. Later, Dolores reveals a dark truth about nonhuman avatars that may fly over the heads of younger audiences, who will enjoy the story’s more saccharine elements; by the end, Kade is no longer Tamika’s “social companion,” but her true friend. Debut artist Rose provides excellent, manga-style black-and-white illustrations.
A quirky, meticulously plotted adventure.