In this YA debut, teens with elemental powers train to battle monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The world has been reduced to glass craters and tumbled ruins by the Burning. In scattered villages, survivors of the Confederacy send gifted children to Redbridge Academy, where they learn to harness the elements: water, earth, fire, and wind. Rayne is from Bluffstown, a coastal community. She and best friend Jules begin three years of training to become Guardians, who fight (and often die) against monsters in the Ziera Mountains. Reaching the academy, Rayne chooses to learn water casting, while Jules chooses fire. The teens also find romance at Redbridge; Jules dates Kiki, and Rayne meets Jay, who cares for the injured in the Mendery. When Rayne’s friend Cascade is hurt, she intuitively heals the girl with flesh casting. Jay tells Rayne to hide the ability, otherwise the school Masters will make her a permanent resident of Healersbay against her will. Jay also hints at a conspiracy, led by Grand Master Efthalia, to find two casters who can manipulate light and shadow—the sun children. These powerful individuals have the potential to destroy the world, much like it was during the Burning. Debut author Iverson combines motifs from Avatar: The Last Airbender and the X-Men comics for an exhilarating read that has no shortage of hairpin twists. As the cast swells with students and teachers, Iverson maintains everyone’s unique value to the plot, thereby performing some excellent sleight of hand as readers learn more about the sun children. The magic of casting is well-grounded in mortal drama, since “Your casting is fueled by your body, and your body is a finite resource.” The fights are enthralling, too, as when a sun child uses “the shadows that played across every crease of my uniform and every contour of my body.” The only drawback, if there is one, is the narrative’s familiar YA structure: sequels and school years are set up to proceed apace. Yet Iverson’s inventive plotting makes any direction seem possible.
In the crowded teens-with-powers genre, this debut sails above the rest.