Carolyn Cushman Reviews Lackey, Meadows, Nielsen, Novik, Ribar

Mercedes Lackey, Elite (Disney/Hyperion 978-1-4847-0785-2, $17.99, 360pp, hc) September 2016. Cover by Shane Rebenschied.

Joy, now a member of the Elite Hunter unit, faces ever more dangerous Othersider attacks in this second book in the young-adult dystopian Hunter series. It’s nearly non-stop action this time, with new monsters outside and intrigue inside to deal with. The Elite don’t even bother hitting up the clubs to improve their popularity rankings; they’re beyond such things. When they’re not fighting armies of monsters outside the city, Joy and her large pack of Hounds get assigned to solo duty patrolling the sewers, where some monsters have been able to get through the barriers somehow, a seriously disturbing new development. Worse, Joy finds human bodies down there – Psimons, members of the powerful Psi Corps – their deaths quickly covered up. Then Ace, the ex-Hunter who tried to kill Joy, escapes to join the enemy. Joy’s a refreshingly smart protagonist who thinks ahead, figuring out new ways to fight even against overwhelming odds, which provides some thrilling encounters. Even so, the unending combat gets wearing after a while. Only towards the end does Joy make a discovery that offers some hope. As a middle novel in a series, it could be much worse – kids who love non-stop action will probably eat it up – but I’m looking forward to changes in the next volume.

Foz Meadows, An Accident of Stars (Angry Robot US 978-0-85766-585-0, $7.99, 491pp, pb) August 2016. Cover by Julie Dillon.

This first book in the Manifold Worlds series introduces a portal fantasy for adults with a very contemporary attitude towards women and sex roles. Saffron’s having a bad day at school, being sexually harrassed by a crude boy, when she meets a strange woman and on impulse follows her through a rip in space to another world. The woman, Gwen, is a long-time worldwalker who got involved in this world’s politics in the country of Kena, and ended up backing the wrong man for ruler. Now she’s scheming to undo her mistake with the help of female-dominated Vekshi exiles. Saffron, meanwhile, has to cope with being in a strange, differently violent world, and finds herself unwittingly caught up in the intrigue. She’s in way over her head at first, but she’s smart and learns quickly. It’s an interesting world, particularly when it comes to sex roles; among other things, families (even the royals) are generally polyamorous and there are no taboos against homosexuality or casual sex. The effort to remove the tyrant provides the bulk of the plot, with plenty of action, but learning about this colorfully complex world keeps things interesting.

Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Scourge (Scholastic Press 978-0-545-68245-9, $16.99, 353pp, hc) September 2016.

Plague has rarely been so much fun as in this middle-grade dystopian adventure novel, which is only fantasy in that it’s set in an imaginary world, though it has much of the feel of historical fantasy. Young Ani Mells is shocked to test positive for the Scourge plague, and get sent to a quarantine colony along with her best friend Weevil. They both belong to the River People, a group despised by most of the people of Keldan, but their members don’t usually get the plague. Ani immediately begins to suspect something isn’t right. When she gets to the prison isle, she finds more evidence that things aren’t what people have been told. Finding out what’s really going on takes some serious ingenuity, but Ani’s up to the task. Banter between Ani and Weevil keeps things amusing, despite their horrible situation. Ani’s also got tons of spunk, grit, and determination, not to mention a real talent for getting into trouble, which keeps things lively. Some developments struck me in retrospect as a bit unlikely, but the plot breezes past for a fun adventure for readers of all ages.

Naomi Novik, League of Dragons (Del Rey 978-0-345-52292-4, $28.00, 380pp, hc) June 2016. Cover by Craig Howell.

The ninth and final book in the Temeraire series finds the war against Napoleon a misery during the winter retreat from Moscow. The allied forces hope to catch up with Bonaparte and stop the war, but it’s not working; they have little or no food, and Napoleon may be on the run, but he’s still brilliant, and manages to evade capture. The miserable journey west just drags on, and eventually Napoleon manages to find ways to build up his troops. He even proposes a code for the treatment of dragons that would unite dragons worldwide, give them land and laws – an idea that could lure more dragons to his side. Of course, Laurence and Temeraire work hard to keep their dragons in line. Ultimately, as in our world, Napoleon loses, but this isn’t the grand finale the series deserved; maybe that would have been too unrealistic. Instead, the somewhat downbeat conclusion at least offers some amusing hints that the new ideas for dragons should have some interesting, lasting repercussions for Britain that might make a return to this world at a later point in its history worthwhile.

Lindsay Ribar, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies (Dawson 978-0-525-42868-8, $17.99, 323pp, hc) June 2016.

Aspen Quick’s family members have a special power that they use to protect Three Peaks from a dangerous cliff looming over the town. However, that power involves ‘‘stealing’’ from people – taking away emotions, memories, character traits, or physical bits like moles or pain. Even aside from using the things the family steals to repair the cliff, Aspen tries to use his abilities to fix things and help people, but he’s not really thinking about how his victims would feel about it, if they knew – and his idea of fixing things can be very self-centered. Then things start going wrong and his first idea is to use his powers to set things right. He starts to question what he’s been told all his life, but still uses his powers on the people around him. It’s really hard to like a character as morally bankrupt as he seems, even understanding he’s had the power all his life and was raised to feel entitled. It takes some really horrible mistakes to finally get through to him. The result is an emotionally powerful portrait of a young man with great power, revealed gradually in both flashbacks and the ongoing story, with some painfully intense moments along the way.

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