Book Review: Science Fiction: Lightless by C.A. Higgins

lightless cover

The deeply moving human drama of Gravity meets the nail-biting suspense of Alien in this riveting science fiction debut. With bold speculation informed by a degree in astrophysics, C. A. Higgins spins an unforgettable “locked spaceship” mystery guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations—and into brilliantly thrilling new territory.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

Title: Lightless
Author: C.A. Higgins
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey Spectra
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Format: eARC from NetGalley
Length: 239 pages
ISBN-10: 0553394428
ISBN-13: 9780553394429

Series or Standalone: Lightless #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Machine Intelligence, Dystopia, Autocracy, Betrayal, Rebellion
POV: 3rd Person Limited
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

Where I Got It:  Stumbled across it on NetGalley, seemed interesting.

Review:  While the book was readable and interesting with nothing else on my plate, it failed to make a strong showing in three major areas:

1. Characters:

The characters were all fairly standard science fiction archetypes in my mind–the tech nerd in love with her machine; the autocratic, sociopathic interrogator; the loyal captain lacking in agency; the wacky computer;  the wily rogue.  I didn’t particularly care for any of these characters, and while I liked the conflict between their internal motivations on paper, the characters don’t quite seem to make them 3d.  They didn’t stand out from their archetypes, or from the page.

2. Science:

The scientific principles involved, especially the use of entropy, had the potential to be very interesting.  However, the execution was lacking.  What could have been neat and exciting came across as either dull or science babble, and wasn’t as deeply exploded as I would have liked.

3. Plot:

A very standard plot, borrowing a bit from police procedurals.  There’s just not a lot of excitement here, and the plot twists are not foreshadowed in such as way as to give the reader any hope of predicting them.  We were not deep enough into any individual’s perspective to justify these sudden twists, and the author could easily have given the reader more clues without making the characters look dumb.


Overall, I found the book readable, but I’m glad I got an ARC instead of buying the book.  It’s not something I’d keep in my collection long-term, and while it’s quite good enough to be published, it’s nothing new or amazing.


Conclusion: 62/100 (Competent but uninspiring)
Premise: 6/10 (Seen it before, and better, but reasonably-handled and a unique spin)
Plot: 7/10 (Few plotholes, but been done many times before)
Setting: 6/10 (Poorly-explored, but could have been interesting with more elaboration)
Main Character: 6/10 (All characters are standard SFF cliches)
World-building: 7/10 (Interesting, though not thoroughly explored)
Antagonist: 7/10 (Well-constructed, don’t see nearly enough of them)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (All characters are standard SFF cliches)
Writing: 7/10 (Well-written in some places, poorly in others)
Themes: 5/10 (Interesting in some cases, but poorly explored and cliche)
Resolution: 5/10 (Un-creative and poorly-constructed)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely get this one from the library if it’s your kind of story.

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
New York Times
Tech Times
Dark Futures
RT Book Reviews
YA Books Central

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Book Review: Young Adult: The Harvest by Chuck Wendig

The Harvest cover

It’s been a year since the Saranyu flotilla fell from the sky, and life in the Heartland has changed. Gone are the Obligations and the Harvest Home festivals. In their place is a spate of dead towns, the former inhabitants forced into mechanical bodies to serve the Empyrean—and crush the Heartland.

When Cael awakens from a Blightborn sleep, miles away from the world he remembers, he sets out across the Heartland to gather his friends for one last mission. As the mechanicals, a war flotilla, and a pack of feral Empyrean girls begin to close in on the Heartland, there isn’t much time to make their next move. But if they can uncover a secret weapon in time, Cael and his friends might just find themselves with the power to save the world—or destroy it—resting in their hands.

Title: The Harvest
Author: Chuck Wendig
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian/Near-future SF
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Format: DRC
Length: 437 pages
ISBN-10: 1477830022
ISBN-13: 9781477830024

Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #3

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Power Corrupts, Evil for Evil, Family
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley.  Since I reviewed the second book, I figured I might as well see what’s changed.


(The first thing I want to say is, normally I leave cover commentary to Marisa, but the whole set of covers for this series were fantastic.  The whole design, even.  I really enjoyed the visual look of the series.)

There were a lot of things to love about this book.  The supporting cast is complex and well-drawn.  They have goals beyond helping the protag do whatever he’s doing.  The villain was lovely.  Sort of a secret, but worked brilliantly with the themes of the book without sacrificing narrative consistency.  You can totally believe all the characters’ motivations while simultaneously seeing the trainwreck they are leading up to.  Cael’s opponent and allies all have their own goals, and are often blind to each other’s understanding of the world.  The Empyrean are more than just villains or dupes.  They may not care much about the Heartlanders, but they care a lot about each other.  It’s rare to see characters reflect the way that everyone is the hero of their own story and has their own narrative through which they view the world.

You learn a great deal about the world of the story that was always in the background but unknown to the readers and characters.  As usual, Wendig’s world-building is beautiful.  Not only is it rich without info-dumping, but it really draws you into the setting.  In so many ways, it seems like it could be real.  Many fantasy and science fiction authors don’t and will probably never have the ability to create a world that seems like it exists beyond the confines of the story.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a MacGuffin in the book.  But it’s a beautiful one.  It does so much more than just provide a quest object for Cael and his enemies to fight over. It reveals things about many of the supporting characters, the way the world of the Heartland is built and functions, and to what lengths the main characters are willing to go to achieve their goals.

The book also has another SFF staple: the Epilogue.  Personally, I felt this one was a bit more of an easy hook to leave space for writing other stories set in Wendig’s world.  I don’t think it was necessary for the story told in this novel.

The themes of the novel, and the series, are both clear but not ham-fisted.  The events of the story just naturally seem to support them.  The structure of the novel just fits these things in so well.

But, as a book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.  I was constantly putting the book down at the slightest opportunity.  And it was often hard to make myself pick it back up.  I admire Wendig’s skills as a writer in a lot of areas.  But novel pacing is not very high among them.  There was far too much down-time, often unnecessary.  Then all the action would be packed into tiny little bits of the book.  Perhaps that lack of focus was the thing that allowed Wendig to do all the things I loved in this book.  But as strictly a reader, it made it hard to keep reading.

I’m just waiting for Wendig to take all the things he does so well and tie them in with a well-paced story that keeps me reading.  From a writer’s standpoint, this book was incredibly interesting as something to analyze for craft, but as a novel, it was eminently put-down-able.  That may seem odd given the score I gave it.  But I know I have a bit of an odd view on what makes a good book, and I think many readers will have an easier time keeping their eyes on the page than I.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Lovely in its parts, quite flawed as a whole)
Premise: 9/10 (As nifty as it was in the first book)
Plot: 7/10 (Some cool twists, but nothing brilliant)
Setting: 10/10 (As usual, Wendig delivers)
Main Character: 6/10 (Kinda dull, also a douche)
The Villain: 8/10 (Worked brilliantly with the theme)
The Weapon: 8/10 (Loved it)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-drawn and interesting)
Writing: 8/10 (Well above competent)
Themes: 9/10 (Favorites well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cool, but coulda been better)

Buy Or Borrow:  If you liked the rest of the series, you’ll probably love this.  If not, it might be better to borrow from a friend.

About the Author:

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:
Michael Patrick Hicks – Author Website
Article 94
Froggy Chemist
Dantastic Book Reviews

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Book Review: Young Adult: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen cover

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fantasy
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Format: ARC
Length: pages
ISBN-10: 0062310631
ISBN-13: 9780062310637

Series or Standalone: Red Queen #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Loyalty, Betrayal, Class Warfare
POV: First Person, Singular POV
Tense: Present Tense

Reviewer: Marisa Greene

How I Found It: Happened across an ARC by way of a friend.

Cover Notes: Normally I prefer a bit more of a visual, but this cover was minimalist and surprisingly effective.  I like to think the Red blood on the Silver crown has a certain thematic resonance.  Plus the font is not horribly gimmicky, and the background color is soothing.

Soundtrack:  Hard to decide between Baroque music or more martial tunes for this one.  Or some angsty emo pop.  Because, damn there’s some whining in this book.  I like to think I was a bit more mature as a teenager–probably not.


I’ve seen a lot of comparisons in other reviews to either Red Rising by Pierce Brown.  There are some shocking similarities.  You can find plenty of examples on Goodreads.  It’s almost the female version, really.  The marketing hype played it up as The Selection by Kiera Cass meets Graceling by Kristen Cashore.  I fail to see any Graceling here, but the first few chapters are almost a novelette length version of “Selection”.

Let’s talk about that, for a bit.  It was boring.  A huge info-dump to display various Silver powers and introduce the Silver aristocrats who played a major part in the cast of the story.  Perhaps if Aveyard had gone into a bit more detail it could have been interesting.  As-is, it felt rushed, and the transition was poor.  I really liked the first couple chapters.  The Roman Empire with electricity thing was a bit heavy-handed.  The book starts out with literal bread and circuses in the form of a gladiatorial match.  Aveyard shoved quite a bit of info-dumping into that, too.  I understand her desire for a quick hook, in the form of threat of conscription for the main characters.  But she pushed too hard, and the set-up of the novel suffered for it.  It also relied on too many cliches.  I would have loved for Mare to steal her way into transport with the Scarlet Guard.  See how things go from there.  But of course, we had to go the sudden awakening of secret powers route.

Now for the steamy bits!  Or rather, the lack thereof.  There’s the requisite love triangle.  Or a square, in this case.  We have the childhood friend, in the form of Kilorn.  And then we have the two Princes of the Realm.  Because what’s a female MC without attracting every eligible bachelor for kingdoms around?  Honestly, I have no idea what the Princes see in Mare, whose a work-a-day Mary Sue character at best, and the speshulist of snowflakes.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to admit that she naturally has a power no-one else does, having done nothing to earn it, and makes zero use of her pre-awakening skills once she learns to control that power.  There’s nothing but that undeserved power to distinguish her from every other angsty, helpless YA heroine.  I loved Mare the pickpocket, cliche or not, but Mareen the lightning-flinger has little to recommend her.

I’d also like to talk about the portrayal of women in the novel.  They’re all mean and conniving, except for out heroine who is selfish and whiny.  We even have a bona fide Evil Stepmother(TM), and a jealous rival for the heroines main princely love interest.  Some of the Goodreads reviews go into a lot more detail here, with quotes, even.  But practically every silver woman hates Mare on sight, despite plenty of male Silvers who like her, and more nuanced reactions from those who don’t.  Even to the point of being ridiculous.  Cal her no apparent reason to care for the MC, and his throwaway kindness at the beginning could have managed perfectly fine as just that, a throwaway that gets the heroine’s story going.  There are even the standard mean girls.  I would have liked more depth to most of the characters in the novel.

Finally, I need to talk about the conclusion.  No spoilers, but it was horribly predictable.  There’s a huge plothole involving the Queen’s powers.  She’s so powerful, and yet she seemed almost incompetent given how easily a couple of teenagers outwitted her.  So the end of the book did not come as a huge shock to me.  Perhaps the reader is supposed to be a bit sharper than Mare, but the difference between what the readr could figure out and what Mare could was way too large.

I thought I was prepared for this book when I saw the comp titles.  Not really my favorite area, though I’ve enjoyed other dystopians well enough.  But the massive hype left me quite disappointed when I flipped the last page of this book.  Though to be fair, I’m not quite the target audience.

Conclusion: 60/100 (I enjoyed it a bit, but it could have been a lot better)
Premise: 5/10 (Nothing new or exciting here)
Plot: 5/10 (Too many characters passing around the idiot ball)
Setting: 7/10 (Could have been better developed)
Main Character: 4/10 (Selfish and whiny)
Love Interest(s): 5/10 (Lots of boys, little variety)
Powers: 8/10 (Standard, but with great presentation)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Far better than the main characters, really.  Loved Julien and the King)
Writing: 6/10 (The mechanical aspect was quite good.  The meaning, rather pedestrian)
Themes: 6/10 (Some of my favorite themes, but poorly handled)
Resolution: 7/10 (Would have been cool if it wasn’t so obvious)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow, unless this is your genre.

Similar Books:

The Hunger Games bu Suzanne Collins

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Other Reviews:
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Muggle Net
USA Today
The Guardian
The Book Smugglers

Buy Links:
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Kindle US
Google Play

Book Review: Fantasy: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

The Dinosaur Lords Cover

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Title: The Dinosaur Lords
Author: Victor Milán
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: High/Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Format: NetGalley Excerpt
Length: 166 pages (out of 448 pages)
ISBN-10: 0765332965
ISBN-13: 9780765332967

Series or Standalone: The Dinosaur Lords #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Court Politics, History vs. Mythology
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Past Tense

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

Where I Got It: Net Galley

Why I Read It: Knights riding dinosaurs, of course.


1. World-building: The world-building in the story largely consists of imposing 14th-century Europe on an extra-terrestrial planet with populated by dinosaurs.  Clear alternate names for European countries and various aspects of society.  Kind of an alternate history with an extra-terrestrial twist.  Not the most original, but it does have the advantage of thousands of pounds of lizard-flesh to liven things up!

2. Characters: There are three main characters in the story: Imperial Princess Melodia, referred to affectionately by her friends as “Dia”; Count Jaume, head of a Holy Order of Dinosaur Knights; and Rob, an on-the-outs dino-tamer with little to lose and a lot of money to gain.  Jaume is your standard martial hero.  Good with a sword, but a bit one-note personality-wise.  We probably could have skipped most of his sections.  Melodia wasn’t particularly intriguing, either.  A spoiled teenage girl, though apparently quite skilled in the martial arts.  Rob was a bit more interesting.  If nothing else, his stakes were a lot higher.  But again, no major swerves from your standard minstrel.  The minor characters don’t do much to make up for the lack in our protagonists.  The real star here is Dia’s younger sister, whose name I will not embarrass myself by trying to spell.  Never has an annoying little sister been so fun.

3. Story: The story itself is nothing special, either.  The standard political shenanigans.  Quite exciting, and lots of action, of course.  The book was published for a reason.  If politics and fighting s your thing, this is definitely the book for you.  Who could resist jousting on Trexes and hunting Triceratops like a common boar?

4. Writing: Is this the next Game of Thrones, but with dinos?  Not even.  But it’s quite well-written, and the prose does nothing to get in the way of a rollicking good yarn, as it were.  The characters come to life, whether or not you care for them as people.  It can’t quite overcome the conventional story elements, but it does keep the book readable and fun.

5. Extras: The book uses chapter-starters, as has become popular in SFF novels lately.  In this cases, excerpts from two books about the world of the story, Paradise.  They come with beautiful ink drawings.  Definitely something I enjoyed, as insubstantial as they may be in comparison to the rest of the book.


Please keep in mind I am reviewing an excerpt consisting of only a third of the full book.  But I think that after 166 pages, it’s still a pretty accurate analysis.

Conclusion: 57/100 (Readable but average)
Premise: 5/10 (Dinos are the only saving grace)
Plot: 5/10 (Interesting, but predictable)
Setting: 5/10 (Score another for the dinos)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Well-written, but limited in depth)
Romance Subplot: 6/10 (Well-drawn, but predictable)
World-building: 5/10 (Pedestrian, if well-detailed)
Supporting Characters: 5/10 (Same as for main)
Writing: 8/10 (Skilled if not brilliant)
Themes: 4/10 (Lightly touched-on, insufficiently explored)
Resolution: 7/10 (For a cliffhanger.  If the true ending is half as good?  It’ll be fun.)

Buy Or Borrow:  Buy if you love military fantasy and giant dinosaurs.  Maybe borrow if that’s not your cup of tea but you still want to give the book a shot.

An Interview With Victor Milan on Suspension of Disbelief

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:
Beauty in Ruins
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
The Bibliosanctum
Lone Star on a Lark

Buy Links:
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On John Green and How YA Authors Interact with Their Fanbase

Just recently, there’s been a huge dust-up over someone saying some things about John Green, and him responding to those things in perhaps not the best manner. I’m not going to take sides in this, or give my personal feelings on the opinions of John Green expressed in the tumblr post or thread. Instead, as a book reviewer who reviews YA literature writing on a blog that reviews YA literature between half and two-thirds of the time, and finally, as a person who is no longer a Young Adult, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about how our society views adults who interact commonly with children and Young Adults, especially men, but also women. And then I’m going to give my take on the most positive ways for adults involved in the literature community to interact with their young adult co-fans.

Young Adult literature is an odd duck. It’s written mostly by people who are no longer young adults, though they may know many due to being parents or their day job. It’s read by both actual young adults and also adults, who for various reasons enjoy it as much or more than a lot of adult literature. There are many reasons why an adult might get involved in Young Adult literature as an author, fan, or occupationally connected person. The two mot obvious categories are librarians–especially school librarians–and authors. There are many writers who would be classified as young adults, but very few of them get published while they are that age. The vast majority of YA writers are adults, either in their early 20s and 30s or much older. The possible writing-related reasons for this aren’t relevant to this post. This is the reality we are dealing with.

Now, adults who interact with kids are often in a delicate position in our society. Biologically, adults are more mature thank kids in terms of thought processes and socialization. (Actual behavior is another story!) This, as well as other aspects of our society, give them a form of power over children and young adults, and in many cases, a lot of power. That power can be and all too often has been abused. That abuse can be sexual, but it can also involve many other things. Stoking egos, getting monetary favors, or convincing kids to do something that benefits the adult and not the child, etc. We’ve become so much more aware of those power dynamics in the last few decades. This is a good thing. It means people can no longer get away with exploitative and abusive behavior the way they could only 20 or 30 years ago. But there are also false positives. Or smaller issues getting magnified. There are various statistics on how common these false positives are versus false negatives, and I won’t debate the ethics issues involved here. These false positives happen, and they can really suck for the person they happen to. Especially in this Internet Age where the tiniest rumour can be magnified into a dog-pile or a witch-hunt. it’s hard to tell when such a thing will happen.

All this leads up to my first point: even mature, well-socialized adults can make mistakes. Especially when they are dealing with the transient rules and murky social systems of young adults, who are transitioning between child and adult socialization.

As a creator with a huge fanbase, John Green has more power than many adults, and also more ardent defenders. For these reasons, it’s on Green to be the more responsible party in interactions with both his fandom and his haters.

This article from The Mary Sue gives a good example:

This could have been a chance for John Green to take a moment to discuss why while he’s attempting to do something positive for teens, it’s still important for teens to keep an eye out for possible red flags. As a public figure who has courted (in a neutral way, this is not an implication of creepiness) his target audience who happens to be mostly teenage girls, it’s his responsibility to make sure that the relationship between himself and his fans remains appropriate. And I think he’s done a good job of that overall, and I have not a single suspicion there’s some ulterior motive behind his behavior or his writing.

John Green may have privilege, but he is still merely human, and he responded as a large majority of people might have responded to such comments. But, there are other ways he could have responded to create something positive out of this:

  1. He could have chosen not to respond.  That’s hard when you’ve been tagged into the mess, but he could have chosen that path.  In which case this would have been just another tempest in a tumblr.
  2. He could have posted on his blog without linking to the specific tumblr post and talked about how he may not have misused his platform to groom and/or assault teenagers, but that it does happen and gone on to describe the issue of power differentials between adults and teens, creators and fans/consumers, men and women.
  3. He could have talked about how creators have to deal with negative publicity in various forms, and how to keep a thick skin and deal with those issues.  I’m sure that would have been an interesting topic for many of his fans and for his friends, writers and otherwise.
  4. He could have used it as an opportunity to talk about the differences between the cafeteria table and the Internet, and how a social media network like tumblr is not really private, even if you have strong privacy settings.
  5. He could have talked about the dangers of snowballing on the internet, and how one voice alone may not be that big of a deal, but how the nature of the internet encourages people to pile on, to engage in social signalling and how in-group/out-group posturing plays out online.  In this case, Greenies and non-Greenies.  He could still talk about that, except in this case he started the snowball rolling and his fans and friends piled more snow on it until it may have crushed the original commenter.  A fate that person probably did not deserve, despite the contentious issues involved here.
  6. He could even have talked about how he chooses to engage his fanbase and why, and the pros and cons of this approach, both for him and for others considering making themselves into such a brand.

The fact that he did not do this doesn’t make him an evil monster.  But his response was a bit like like destroying a damn above a little ant-hill because one ant bit him thinking he might be attacking the nest.  He must know by now that no matter what he says, his fans and friends will leap to his defense, even if it’s unnecessary and possibly excessive.  That’s something I hope he’ll be thinking about when situations like this arise in the future.

We’re Back!

Due to a combination of personal and professional reasons, we’ve been MIA since the beginning of October. But as of the middle of July, we’ll be back to reading books and posting reviews here on the Dark Net. These will be a combination of previously scheduled reviews and new reviews, depending on whether we feel it’s still worth reviewing ARCs which are well past their release date, and whether a given ARC is still available to us. We apologize to our readers and the publishers who so kindly approved us for review copies. It’s mostly likely we will be posting a combined review per week, although depending on what ARCs we get, we might publish more or less in a given week. We really enjoyed our previous review period, despite a bit of stress from a busy review schedule, and we feel we’ve better organized our time this go around.

We will be following our traditional format for the most part, though a book review here and there might diverge a bit.

Book Review: Young Adult: Dead Zone by Robison Wells

Dead Zone Cover

The invasion has begun—and a group of teens are caught in the crossfire.
I volunteered to be a spy, not an assassin.
I know this is war . . .
but I just want to do what’s right.
If you ask me, none of us should be here—but no one gave me a choice.
And I won’t blindly follow orders.
I am essential to the plan.
And I will be a hero for my country.
If I were normal, I wouldn’t be
old enough to join the army.
But I’m not normal. I’m a weapon.
We’re a perfect match—
on and off the battlefield.
I hope that means we’ll both survive.

Title: Dead Zone
Author: Robison Wells
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller/Action Adventure
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 373 pages
ISBN-10: 0062275046
ISBN-13: 9780062275042

Series or Standalone: Blackout #2

Literary Awards:

Themes: Following Orders, Greater Good
POV: Multiple 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick

Where I Got It: Thanks to Atsiko for finding a trove of 2014 ARCs. We’ve both spent time listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Podcast, Writing Excuses, on which Wells was often a guest, so we were very excited to have someone reviewing this book. For scheduling reasons, that someone ended up being me.


This was a difficult review to write. I knew about a third of the way through this would not be a favorite of mine. I like the premise. Superpowers, especially limited and diverse superpowers, are inherently a fun idea for me. But, because I enjoy the idea so much, I might be more inclined to a tough rubric. There have been several well-known books/multi-media franchises based on the concept of large numbers of people with starkly varying super-powers. X-Men is probably the most famous. The TV show Heroes also achieved a good deal of success with this premise. Going further afield, there have been several anime and manga series using a similar idea: Gakuen Alice, and more recently Tokyo ESP. None of these stories are perfect. And neither is Dead Zone.

One of the major issues I had with the book was the characters. They were, to my mind, very cliche representations of teenagers. The character voices and their behavior didn’t feel natural to me in many scenes of the book. The supporting characters were more complex than the main characters, while being more cliche stereotypes. The main characters, while less cliche, were also much less complex, and I had trouble buying some of their emotional quandaries. You’re going to have a certain amount of apparent cliche in any YA book, just because your average teenager has fairly similar experiences to their peers, and also because of media stereotypes popularized by well-known television shows and movies. It can be very hard to break out of those narratives, especially for older authors who may be more distant from their teenage selves.

The plot of Dead Zone was also a fairly standard war plot. I felt like I saw quite a few of the plot twists coming. They followed a common pattern.

To be fair to Wells, I can definitely see why a publisher picked this up. It’s got that high concept and breakneck pace that makes thrillers so popular. The problem-solving ability of the main characters was great fun to see in action, and he created that sense of righteous indignation at the way the characters were co-opted by various groups that can lead to a strong emotional investment even in weakly-drawn characters.

I haven’t read Variant, or any of the books in that series, so I can’t say how Dead Zone stacks up. It is an improvement on Blackout, so readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will likely enjoy this one. I personally wouldn’t have bought this book after reading Blackout. I don’t mind the few hours it took to read it, but I think I would have minded the money I’d have had to spend to buy it.

Conclusion: 66/100 (Readable, but not compulsively so)
Premise: 6/10 (Done before, sometimes better)
Plot: 7/10 (Cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Decently-drawn)
Main Character: 7/10 (Nothing special, but nothing terrible)
SF Elements 6/10 (Cliche)
Mutant powers 7/10 (Cliche, but well-used)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Cliche)
Writing: 3/15 (Competent, but no more)
Voice: 2/5 (Not great)
Themes: 7/10 (Common and mediocre execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cliche)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like super hero stories, otherwise borrowing might be the best option.

Similar Books:
Very similar to the X-Men franchise and also the TV show Heroes. Your standard kids with superheroes story.

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
YA Books Central
This Blonde Reads
San Francisco Book Review

Buy Links:
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