Five teens with heightened senses and newly acquired fighting skills battle a formidable villain and his henchmen who have besieged an entire town in Smith’s energetic YA adventure debut.
Kinsu, Chase, Alex, Jordan, and Rhee are the stars of Danville Heights’ high school football team. But this doesn’t prepare them for what they find in the community’s nature preserve, which residents generally regard as off limits. Fresh off a regional championship, the boys trek through the forested area and encounter strange floating balls of light. Next thing they know, they awaken with amplified senses—Kinsu has sharp vision; Jordan, boosted hearing—and an instinctual connection to one another. They also have a newfound martial arts prowess, which they put to use in nearby Sandry Lake. The town has been overtaken by Druth, an evil, enigmatic being whose goons routinely steal from and assault citizens. The boys, however, will need help overthrowing Druth. This superhero story centers more on hero than super. Smith builds a solid foundation for the characters by first introducing the teens individually and highlighting their football game before they procure their powers. The boys don’t develop their martial arts, which is just another gift: “Somehow we’re good at it,” Chase points out to the others. Smith does knock out a few stellar action sequences, but the novel is more about why destiny has apparently tapped the five boys. Mysterious elements, meanwhile, ultimately emerge, including the identities of the Dark Stranger, acting as a guide for the boys’ fight against Druth, and the equally adept (and helpful) “girl”—though she’s in her late 30s. Smith’s approach limits the violence and seems to target a young-adult audience. But her writing is intelligent and often lyrical, like the description of various sounds Jordan hears as colors in motion. And while she tends to recap kicks and punches rather than specify maneuvers, her exuberant prose never fails to dazzle: “They vowed to kick butt without warning,” the narrative declares, “much to the dismay of the dreaded Druth.”
Delights with characters defined by their actions not their superpowers.