The titles in McDougall’s space-adventure series are a little misleading, and even the characters know it.
The first book, Mars Evacuees (2015), was ostensibly the memoir of Alice Dare, a schoolgirl who fought aliens on the red planet. But the book didn’t seem to be about Mars—not right away. As she says in this sequel, “when I had written fifty pages and had barely gotten to the place when we landed on Mars, I nearly gave up.” There are no hostages in Space Hostages until Page 110, and if that makes the first few chapters slow reading, it also makes the book all the more frightening when the hostage-taking occurs. The kidnapping is so sudden and shocking that it changes the tone of the novel. Not only are the hijackers wonderfully scary, but they feel genuinely alien. The Krakkiluks value marriage above nearly everything, and their warriors speak in romantic poetry, so even their most vicious attacks are strangely beautiful. Every species Alice meets is a fully developed culture. But some readers’ favorite character will be the Helen, a soulful, intelligent spaceship who’s in love with her captain. The surprise plot twists are genuinely surprising, and there are moments when it really seems possible the main characters won’t survive.
The book’s odd pacing may disorient some readers, but they’ll be very happy to be disoriented. (Science fiction. 8-12)