Reviewed by Rex Sumner
Phil Pauley is an accomplished writer. The story is well written and flows nicely. I would like to reward this with an excellent review. But the plot….
The story starts with three people as some sort of soldiers in the middle of a fire-fight. At first there is a sense of disbelief, because surely the protagonists are too young in their language and decision making, and the enemy seem pretty ridiculous. Then it transpires that it is all a game the kids are playing, and everything is fine, it all makes sense and the reader smiles, content. The kids act like kids, the story progresses and you expect a YA book set in some future world, possibly earth, with everyone living in domed cities except for odd people in the wilds.
Indeed, the story progresses in that manner, although with a dearth of actual science. Unfortunately, people start to act in unbelievable ways to force the story in the right directions. Luca is taken on board a warship as a stowaway… by accident. There is a battle, and the battle scenes are scrappy and jump about, leaving the reader bewildered as to what is happening. The crew act strangely and all hide in the galley while a 16 year old takes over and pilots the ship on its escape, assisted by a trainee and another young prisoner. Then you are on a helter-skelter ride of alien invasion and battle, with children proving to be the anointed ones and Luca having a sacred destiny dictated by his missing father who is leaving him clues in a DNA-triggered ring.
There is a Mad Max sketch from the Thunderdome, where 16 year old Luca has to battle dozens of robots, whom he overcomes with the mystical help of water nymph named Serenissima with great originality. Then he has to battle the current champion, who has beaten all comers despite having been involved in a fracas with Lucas the day before…. The battle is done using 20′ tall mutant apes, who are controlled by wires from a control box on the shoulders in which the fighter sits. The apes must be a lot bigger than 20′ as Luca is able to take two of his friends with him in the control box as his ape runs to freedom.
None of the heroes die, only bad guys and unnamed people, all the adults think Luca is fantastic and he is the hero who saves everybody and fights off the alien invasion.
If you can swallow fantasy on this level, then have a good time with this YA adventure because Phil Pauley is a good writer and he tells his story well. I started this book with high expectations which were not fulfilled. I hope in his next novel he fills in the holes in his plot and gets plenty of beta-readers to help him find them. This book is so close to being excellent and is let down by the plot.