Roaring Brook. Sept. 2020. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250221681.
Gr 9 Up–The nation of Mara is fighting a losing war against the Karensa Federation and its superior technology harnessed from the Early Ones—a fallen civilization readers will recognize as our own. Mara was supposed to be a safe haven for Talin and her mother; instead, refugees are kept outside the city walls. Talin is proud of the features that signal her as Basean—light brown skin, “eyes green and slender and long lashed,” black hair that shines blue—though many Marans refer to refugees like her as rats. As a Striker on the warfront, Talin fights Ghosts—humans who have been horrifically re-engineered by the Federation to become monsters intent only on killing. When Talin saves a mysterious prisoner of war she may have also found the key to beating the Federation—but first she has to decide if the prisoner is a potential weapon or an ally. This post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure is a visceral exploration of the emotional and physical costs of war. Poison gas scarred Talin’s vocal chords leaving her unable to speak; she instead communicates with the sign language used by Strikers. Talin’s narration is caustic as questions of allegiance and loyalty move the plot forward, with Talin and her friends struggling to save a country that offered refuge while withholding common decency. At the cliffhanger end of this book Mara’s fate is far from secure, leaving readers to wait for answers in the conclusion to this duology.
VERDICT Suspense and high-action fights make this plot-driven story both fast-paced and brutal.

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