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In this YA fantasy debut, wayward teens come under the guidance of a benefactor with a mysterious agenda.

Amherst Snowden established Young Haven to help outcast teens develop their potentials in a safe and judgment-free environment. In the bunk area, 17-year-old Ray meets Farrah and Evie, two young ladies, each lovely in her own way. Evie, however, knows his name without being told—because she can read minds. Then in walks Carys, a girl whose beauty radiates with an otherworldly intensity. Elsewhere in the bunks, artistic Xandra meets twin brothers Rian and Roan and infers that the teens may have been brought here because of their juvenile records. Later, Snowden addresses his crowded amphitheater and reveals that the teens are directly descended from mythological gods found in ancient Greek, Aztec, Norse, and Egyptian cultures. Further, he says they’re “biologically immortal,” i.e., they’ve got triple DNA helixes and can’t die unless forcibly killed. Snowden knows this because of research on his own daughter, Portia, who died at the age of 13. His story seems absurd, yet Ray can control fire, and the other teens all have powers, too. After a motorbike accident bonds the seven protagonists, Snowden presents them with a unique challenge, drawing them deeper into a world they thought impossible. With her knack for cutting dialogue and whip-smart characterization, debut author Burke stakes out fresh ground in the genre towered over by Rick Riordan (The Lightning Thief, 2005). Snowden, who’s missing a leg, says, “The only handicap I know a person to have is self-pity.” Between chapters are sayings, quotes, and mythological vignettes that sharpen the following action: e.g., “Altruism can be a motivator. But usually it is personal gain.” The prose consistently layers in details about the teen psyche, and in the narrative’s second half, it also delivers horror atmospherics: “In place of the [ghoul’s] lips is singed, gray colored skin that bears dark, purple trenches surrounding their mouths.” Burke will hopefully keep her richly crafted immortals alive for a sequel.

Fans of gods, goddesses, and the X-Men should invest in this character-driven debut.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2015
Page count: 205pp
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Program: Kirkus Indie
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