Written by Caryn Lix
Published by Simon Pulse
Publication date: 10th July 2018
Summary (from Goodreads):
Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything.
As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward.
But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.
At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely.
As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.
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Did I imagine the extra strain in her voice?
If this wasn’t a drill, Dad could be in danger. Separation or not, they’d been together a long time. They had to feel something for one another. I searched her expression and she flashed me a quick smile, then squeezed my arm as she turned away.
Rita’s voice filled the channel with colorful Spanish swearing. Then my dad, significantly more restrained: “Which prisoners?” Mom thumbed the mobile unit in its hollowed-out resting place in her wrist, manually calling up the files. “5-B and C. Cheung Hu and Alexei Danshov.”
More cursing from Rita. “Danshov? We’re going to need backup.” Mom slammed her hand on the console, making Noah jump. She quickly clenched it into a fist, but not before I caught it trembling.
“You’re armed. They’re not. Watch your backs and you’ll be fine.”
“Are you kidding me?” I exploded. “Mom, those kids are the most dangerous people in the solar system! They’ll—” Her brows drew together, her jaw tightening in a way that stopped me mid-sentence.
“No one understands the stakes better than I do, Kenzie,” she said , more gently than I’d expected. “Sit down.”
First impressions: I love sci-fi so was instantly drawn to this when I spotted it on Netgalley. I also liked the idea of a prison in space, the mention of superpowers caused by genetic changes (I love X-men!) and was intrigued when I spotted what looked like two stories in one – the first, the prisoner’s attempted escape and the second, the prison guards and prisoners being forced to team together against a larger threat.
At first I did also feel that Kenzie being a prison guard, even a junior one, was quite unrealistic as she is so young and it could be a dangerous job. However, in space where transport between planets could take years, I could also imagine trades or jobs running in families as each generation grows up in space doing it. I can also imagine that children would have to group up faster as everyone on a spaceship needs to be useful. I also like the cover as it is quite dark and ominous.
When I started the first chapter I felt a bit wary as Kenzie comes across as so young!
Despite the synopsis saying that she has trained for her whole life to do this job, she came across as quite immature and impetuous when questioning her commanding officer (also her mother). However, when she calms down she proves herself to be an important part of the team, identifying code that does not belong and removing it so they can regain control of the prison ship’s security.
When, after the drill, she decides to go down into the prison to check that the two prisoners are actually safely in their cells, I could completely understand her curiosity, but did wonder why she had never bothered before in all the years she lived there. If it were me, I would have been interested in reading the files of the prisoners and I could imagine familiarising yourself with these would have been part of prison guard training. This is touched on later, when Rita (an older prison guard) says that it’s safer not to know too much so you don’t begin thinking of the prisoners as individuals and sympathising with them.
I ended up getting completely hooked by this book. I was so engaged by the first part of the story – when Kenzie is captured by escaping prisoners and their subsequent negotiations with her mother who is stuck between her role as commanding officer and role as a parent, as well as getting to know the prisoners and their abilities – that the second part came as quite a shock.
Things are already pretty bad, when someone or something rips its way onto the ship and people start disappearing…
This book does what some of the best sci-fi does, in using the backdrop of space to explore human psychology and our connectedness. On Sanctuary, you can be imprisoned for an accident of birth, corporations have more control than governments and life is perfect only for those who agree to being completely controlled. This is a fascinating version of a possible future and made for compelling reading!
I would recommend this for any fans of sci-fi, X-men or someone interested in reading something a bit different from their usual fare.
The ending sets up for a sequel and I, for one, will definitely be reading Book 2!
Until now, we’d all stuck to human terminology. Someone else was on the station with us.
But Anya had not described a some one. She’d described a something.
Four legs, she’d said. A tail. Had a particularly vicious poodle found its way into sector 4? Or . . . or was it finally time to consider another possibility?
Humanity once wallowed in the blissful view that we were alone in the universe. The probes’ arrival half a century earlier had shattered that thinking. But since then, we’d had no contact with aliens of any kind. We’d explored the solar system, colonized the moon, Mars, and some of the moons around Jupiter, set up space stations and interplanetary corporations— all without a hint of life from outside our boundaries.
In the fifty years since the probes, we’d come to think of them as a one-time encounter with creatures we’d never truly meet. But Colonel Trace’s debriefing after the drill echoed in my mind. Sure, now I realized that Rune had engineered the whole thing. Trace, though, seemed to suspect increased security from the Omnistellar AI as the fifty-year anniversary of the probes approached.
Why? What did she know that I didn’t? Aliens?
What I liked: I loved Cage and Rune as characters and their sibling relationship as well as how well-characterised most of the prisoners were. I liked Kenzie’s character and how resourceful she is when things go wrong. I also loved the beginning of a relationship between Cage and Kenzie and how she questions how much of it is some form of Stockholm Syndrome and how much of it is genuine attraction, loved Mia and Alexei and wanted to know more about their back stories. I also liked how some of the character deaths were handled (one in particular was very shocking yet completely realistic).
I liked the debate over who should control society – in this case, the better-off citizens were those working for large corporations whilst the government-controlled territories were more lawless and risky. I liked how the arrival of the alien probes humbled humans into seeing that not only are they not alone in the universe, they are also not that important in the larger scheme of things. I also liked that the characters come from various countries and their diversity reflects the diversity of our world, but it was done in such a natural way, rather than an exercise in box-ticking. One of the mutant powers mentioned was to be able to learn languages effortlessly – give me that power now please!
Even better if: I wanted to know more about Kenzie’s education and training within Omnistellar. How exactly do they instil their values and ideas? Would she really have been able to doubt them so quickly after years of brainwashing? I still have so many questions about other aspects of the world too (a good reason to read on to Book 2!) How was the prison designed to keep those with mutant abilities? How were they spotted? Why are some imprisoned, despite having not broken any laws while others are allowed to have a chip installed and live in normal society? Did Omnistellar have any idea what the aliens were planning? Otherwise, why would they know that 50 years was an important anniversary? I feel that the first chapter is the weakest, but push past that for a fantastic story.
How you could use it in your classroom: Extracts from this could be used to discuss societal structure and how best to govern people – governments, corporations, etc – and might make a relatively dry topic much more interesting. It could also be used to spark discussions about nature versus nurture and how much your genes dictate your future. Should mutants be seen as the next stage in human evolution or should they be feared? This would be a great addition to any library catering for young adults or wanting to expand their sci-fi section. Sci-fi can be seen as a bit intimidating to those who don’t already read it, but this book could serve as a gateway text because it’s all about the characters, with the sci-fi setting simply the backdrop.
Don’t miss my interview with the author, Caryn Lix
(Thank you to the publisher and Fantastic Flying Book Tours for my e-review copy)
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