When something goes wrong at a secret military base, world survival depends on a group of Laser Wars-playing teenagers in this debut YA sci-fi novel.
Blackwoods, Wyoming, is the top-secret site of Briggs Air Force Base and Blackwoods Military Research Facility, the most advanced institution of its kind on Earth. For kids like Ethan Tate, 13, whose parents work at the facility, this means “toys years ahead of their time” and impressively well-equipped games of Laser Wars with fortresses in the woods. Unfortunately, his Team Bravo leader, Gen. Turnbull’s son, Austin, is a bully who enjoys taunting Ethan with his own father’s low status as a janitor. Ethan, a scout, often wishes he could be on Delta Team with pretty Annika Pepper, “the best Laser Wars sniper in Blackwoods for three years running.” When, soon after seventh-grade graduation, nearly everyone in town disappears overnight, only a few kids are left to discover what’s happened and how to fix it: Ethan; his best friend, Caleb Warren (Team Bravo’s engineer); Annika; Austin; and Glenn Vaden (the leader of Delta Team). It seems that robots being experimented on at the facility have achieved sentience, resent their treatment, and become bent on world domination. Using the clues and equipment at their disposal, the five teenagers must fight a lengthy, desperate battle and make a last-ditch attempt to save humankind. In his novel, Peek writes an engaging, exciting story that nicely balances technical details of weaponry and combat with good character development. Ethan shows growing leadership that parallels his deepening relationship with Annika, and Austin displays a new side of himself in the face of adversity. The book is well structured, setting up ideas and skills in early chapters that pay benefits later on. Some of these developments feel predictable in the classic, scrappy-bunch-of-misfits genre (a teenager subtrope), but the kids have genuine skills and Peek adds an original spin with the Laser Wars background. Unfortunately, the ending throws a last-minute curveball that’s under-explained, leaving a note of unresolved confusion.
An entertaining mix of high-tech showdowns with believable adolescent friendships and romance.