This uneven trilogy ends with plenty of violent action, leaving tough questions on the table.
Acing the application process, Alenna wins a spot with Liam and Gadya on the first team dispatched from Island Alpha, aka “the wheel,” to retake the United Northern Alliance (Canada, the United States and Mexico, all fused in a totalitarian state). Separated from allies, Alenna’s sent to the Hellgrounds, scientific labs concealed in bucolic New Iowa, where scientists carry out unspeakable experiments on drugged human subjects and build monstrous cyborgs. These focused action scenes, Stasse’s strength, deliver suspense and surprise. But the narrative rationale for the UNA, intent on world domination, is weak, sketchily borrowed from some drab, Soviet-era archetype. Unimaginative worldbuilding doesn’t help; place names are familiar U.S. versions with “New” tacked on in front (no rationale’s offered for “New Venezuela”). Crime and punishment can’t happen 24/7; someone has to mind the store. How do ordinary citizens live? What do they think is happening? Alenna and company, childishly self-absorbed, sidestep war’s harsh realities; the costs of victory and defeat are borne by disposable characters. Gadya’s gratuitous violence doesn’t recoil on her; Alenna’s passing regrets don’t lead her to change course.
In this dumbed-down dystopia, noble ends, vague notions of “freedom,” trump any amount of collateral damage, excruciatingly detailed, in human lives. (Dystopian adventure. 12-18)