Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Review of The Pearl Wars by Nick James

This debut novel enters the growing ranks of YA sci-fi with strong boy appeal; it's also another dystopian offering. In James's future U.S., most of the population is divided between a corrupt government on the Surface and a group of Skyship dwellers who are political dissidents. Both groups compete to capture the Pearls: small spheres that fall from space and contain vast quantities of energy that can be used to keep the machines of civilization running.

Of course, there's a third faction here, though it's not well organized—those who live between the ruins of post-apocalyptic cities outside the protected areas run by the government. The worst of these are called Fringers because they live in Fringe Town and are the equivalent of roving street gangs. But others eke out an existence in quietly pathetic little communities.

Jesse Fisher lives on a Skyship. He encounters ruthless Cassius Stevenson from the Surface agency when both are in pursuit of a fallen Pearl. As they clash, the boys nearly die; then, as the two of them dangle from the rooftop of an abandoned building, they feel a strange flash of energy flowing between them. Just what connection could two such different people possibly have?

Back in their respective realms, Jesse and Cassius discover that the adults they trust are keeping secrets from them. When they meet again, is it to kidnap, kill, or help each other? Each boy seeks for answers, but the politics of Skyship and Surface conspire to keep them from learning what they need to know.

James deliberately makes Cassius less likable than Jesse, who seems more like the main character. But the two subplots do intertwine, and you may feel a bit of sympathy for cold-hearted Cassius before all's said and done.

Jesse has friends on the Skyship, but it's hard for him to know who to trust. Why does Captain Alkine take an unusual interest in him? Then there's an older girl named Eva. She seems to keep an eye on him, but why? Is Skandar really that good of a friend? And what about Avery, a girl who might be attracted to Jesse?

Then Jesse starts having strange interactions with the falling Pearls. Who is he really?

As for Cassius, he begins to question the intentions of Madame, leader of the Surface government and the closest thing he has to a mother. Does she care about him at all? As his body reacts bizarrely in the aftermath of his meeting with Jesse, he becomes determined to find the Skyship boy and see if he can make things normal again.

But neither boy is exactly normal. Eventually both of them are on the run, running from each other and after each other, fleeing from larger forces as they head for the ruins of Seattle, where they believe they will find the truth.

Here's a sample of the action:
Just as the guy's about to crack my skull open, an explosion rattles the street.

All three Fringers release me and spin around. I crumple to the ground, face on fire.

Framed by their tense, ready-to-pounce bodies, I see the silhouette of Eva Rodriguez. A trail of sandy smoke winds up into the air beside her like a serpent. It came from a detonator, the spherical shell of which lies on the cracked pavement in front of her right foot.

She looks older than her fifteen years, and far more intimidating than me with her cropped hair and well-practiced battle scowl. A bulky burlap pouch hangs over her shoulder, barely containing a radiant green glow. Resting inside is the Pearl we were sent down to retrieve...

"I've got more where that came from." Her dark eyes lock onto each of them as she moves the barrel of the pistol from one to another. "Leave. Now."

You'll find more action than character development in The Pearl Wars, but Jesse is a nicely dimensional character, while Cassius is sufficiently dark and complex to create a good contrast to his Skyship counterpart.

Nick James's vision of the future is an intriguing one, and his storytelling is suspenseful and fast paced—obviously influenced by TV, movies, and comic books. Watch for some great plot twists as you give this first volume of his new Skyship Academy series a try!

Note for Worried Parents: Like many YA dystopian novels, this book has a grim, dreary world marked by violence and betrayal. There's a little boy-girl attraction, but not much more than you'd expect from a teenage boy protagonist.

Also: The jacket art is great, but I think it looks a bit steampunk, and this is not a steampunk book.

Don't know how long it will last, but here's Nick James explaining his blog tour contest, and then you can check out his his very cool website, where you'll find more info about the blog tour and Nick, his book, etc.

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