Following The Culling (2013), Recruit-turned–Imposer trainee Lucian “Lucky” Spark observes the Trials, a yearly competition in which horror-movie–esque situations determine which competitor’s loved one dies; his position may be new, but it is still potentially deadly.
Lucky takes advantage of his new, privileged position as Trials winner to gain access to munitions and locations for sabotage and terrorist attacks against the regime he serves. Still a guileless hero, Lucky isn’t the stealthiest insurgent—his primary antagonist, Cassius, sees through him, and he runs afoul of the organized resistance. After straightening things out, they send him to assassinate Cassius and the prime minister, but when the time comes, a terrible, surprising choice botches the mission (as in the first book, choices again are a major theme). As punishment, Cassius sends Lucky and his fellow Imposer trainees back to the Trials—this time as Incentives who will be killed if their Recruit places last in a contest. Lucky must find a way to escape and save as many fellow hostages as possible. Although the prose revels in gore, readers are spared psychological horror, as most imperiled characters lack necessary development for emotional attachment. In the final act, a series of double crosses (and even triple crosses) and plot twists comes so fast readers won’t have time to ponder implications and motivations.
Frequently baffling and uneven; only for readers already invested in Lucky. (Science fiction. 13-16)