Lucian “Lucky” Spark has run out of luck; he’s been selected as a candidate for the Recruitment, a series of brutal tests designed to be a fast track to military leadership for a few of the most promising individuals of society.
But there’s a catch—one of the four recruits Lucky is pitted against is Digory Tycho, a charming young man for whom Lucky is developing a strong attraction. When Lucky and Digory are assigned as each other’s Incentives—effectively, as hostages to ensure cooperation and competition within the trials—they must choose where love and loyalty lie. Except for the gay romance, dos Santos’ debut is a by-the-numbers dystopian: An overwhelming divide separates rich and poor; the harsh government crushes resistance; vicious death matches result in lots of gore. Lucky’s concern for his little brother (who is initially held by the government to ensure Lucky’s cooperation), his gradual embrace of the resistance movement and his sudden survival skills are all familiar tropes as well. There’s a certain appeal to dos Santos’ depiction of LGBTQ characters—Lucian is treated harshly for being a traitor, not for being gay, and same-sex marriage is routine. None of the supporting characters are developed beyond their flaws, and the gruesome nature of the death traps borders on gratuitous.
Entirely derivative from start to finish, it will probably nonetheless appeal to those still obsessed with the torture genre and stands as a rare dystopia in which gay characters exist. (Dystopian romance. 12 & up)