Annex by Rich Larson

Annex Cover.jpg

Publication Date: Orbit

Australian Publication Date – 25 September 2018

World Publication Date – 24 July 2018

 

From exciting new author Rich Larson comes an absorbing young adult science fiction debut that makes use of creepy alien elements, excellent characters and fantastic LGBT inclusions to create a powerful and creative read.

When a gigantic alien ship arrives above Earth and isolates an entire city, all the children that are trapped with the aliens are kidnapped and infested with parasitic life forms, while the adults are clamped and inserted with mechanical devices that turn them into mindless drones.

For the small group of children that escape captivity, the disappearance of all the adults offers them a life of fun and adventure.  Falling under the leadership of the charismatic Wyatt, this group of survivors, the Lost Boys, are living the high life, with their newly attached parasites giving them the ability to vanish objects for brief periods of time.  While life is fun, they must continue to avoid the mechanical whirlybirds, the pod-like spaceships and the terrifying Othermothers hunting them in the streets.

For Violet, this new world allows her the opportunity to live the life she’s always wanted and to be the person she’s always wanted to be.  But Violet’s new life on of the city streets changes dramatically when she finds a new escapee, Bo, and takes him under her wing.  Bo has the most powerful parasite the group has ever seen and is capable of permanently vanishing larger objects.  It also appears the alien invaders want him back and are deploying hordes of their creatures to capture him.

Sensing an opportunity, the Lost Boys use Bo to fight back against the aliens while trying to uncover what plans they have for the rest of the planet.  Breaking into the massive hovering mother ship, Violet and Bo team up with the mysterious Mr Gloom to end this alien threat once and for all.  But these two young people will quickly find that the biggest threat to them may be far closer to home than they realise.

Annex is the first novel from Rich Larson and is the first book in The Violet Wars series, with the second book of this intriguing series, Cypher, already on its way.  This is a wonderful debut from Larson, which contains a surprisingly intense and at times dark story that will prove to be enjoyable to a wide range of readers.

There are a number of great features of Annex that readers will enjoy; however, one of the most noticeable features is the creepy and well-written descriptions of the aliens and events that the book’s main characters encounter.  There are a lot of inventive and twisted creatures, technology and even body modifications that can be found throughout this book, and Larson’s skilled writing helps brings them to life in the reader’s imagination.  I was particularly impressed, and a little freaked out, by Larson’s unique creation the Othermothers.  The Othermothers are unsettling clones of the escaped children’s mothers, perched upon long skeletal metal legs, who chirp out random phrases in the mothers’ voices in an attempt to lure the escaped children to them and then capture them.  Because of Larson’s descriptive writing, these creatures are horrifying and really stood out for me among the other alien antagonists the heroes encountered.  Special mention should also be made of the shadowy Mr Gloom, a strange adult they encounter whose appearance is not quite human and who has a range of powerful abilities.  I am not going to reveal too much about Mr Gloom because he appears about two-thirds into the book and I do not want to spoil too much about him.  I did find him to be quite a fun character.  Larson’s descriptions of Mr Gloom are fantastic, especially when it comes to exploring his shadow based abilities, which are a treat to read about.

In addition to the alien creatures and characters that are encountered through the book, readers should also keep an eye on the leader of the Lost Boys, Wyatt.  Wyatt is at first presented as a talented leader who has managed to bring the Lost Boys together and keep them alive.  However, there is much more to this character than he initially presents, and his real personality begins to be revealed to the heroes and the readers as the book progresses.  This is some incredible character work from Larson, and the revelation of Wyatt’s true motivations and persona is done perfectly, resulting in some excellent dramatic scenes and some really dark twists.  The author’s use of two separate point-of-view characters, Violet and Bo, works really well when it comes to viewing Wyatt, as the reader is able to observe his different manipulations, his moods and the cracks that appear in his outer façade.  This is a very intriguing character that dramatically changes the narrative of Annex in a number of ways, and the scenes exploring Wyatt are some of the best written in the entire book.

One of the key aspects of Annex that will prove to be an interesting addition for the reader is one of the main protagonists, Violet.  Violet is a tough–as-nails kicker of alien ass who is also a young transgender girl who has used the lack of adults following the invasion to finally live her life the way she always wanted to.  This is an amazing portrayal of a transgender character, as the author creates a stimulating backstory for Violet that examines her past and explores how she became her current self while also exploring the fears and people that stopped her from fully expressing her identity.  The book also explores how intrinsic this identity can be and how devastating attacks about identity can be, even during an alien apocalypse.  Violet is a well-rounded character, and Larson skilfully displays her other fears, her independence, her new friendship with Bo and her relationships with the other Lost Boys.  Violet helps to elevate this book to the next level and make it into a terrific piece of young adult fiction.

This book is an interesting addition to the young adult genre that definitely highlights the empowerment of young people.  The human characters of this book are all quite youthful and yet manage to thrive in a hostile alien landscape that has incapacitated all of the adults.  Watching these young people come together as a tight-knit group is an intriguing part of this book, and it is interesting to see the subtle techniques Wyatt uses to turn them into his own little army, such as with initiation rites, slogans and other forms of manipulation.  Overall, watching this group overcome without adult help the obstacles of being among the aliens oppressing them is a great part of the book.  This makes it an interesting read for the young adult audience, especially for those who love to see transgender characters in fiction.

Annex by Rich Larson is an excellent debut and is recommended for those younger readers looking for a science fiction adventure that they can relate to.  With some creepy aliens, intriguing characters and a deep look at transgender issues among today’s youth, this is an exhilarating read from a promising new author.

My Rating:

Four stars

AWOL: Agent Without Licence by Andrew Lane

AWOL Agent Without Licence Cover.jpg

Publisher: Piccadilly Press

Publication date – 12 July 2018

 

From a veteran author of young adult fiction comes this brilliant spy thriller that introduces a younger audience to the joys of modern espionage.

Kieron Mellor and his best friend, Sam, are typical teenagers living the ‘greeb’ lifestyle in Newcastle, England, with their biggest problem revolving around how to get tickets to the next rock show.  But when they witness a man being kidnapped in their local mall, they are thrust into the world of covert espionage and a plot to unleash untold destruction on the world.  Noticing that the kidnapped man has dropped a set of glasses and an earpiece, Kieron picks them up, only to discover that they are part of a high tech virtual reality kit that can provide the user with a database of information about anything they see.  They also connect Kieron to Bex, a secret agent on mission in Mumbai who is in desperate need of his help.

Bex’s handler, the man who was kidnapped, was using the technology currently in Kieron’s possession to remotely assist Bex with her mission.  Bex was observing a deal for information about nuclear weapons, but the disappearance of her handler resulted in her losing her target.  With no other options, Bex is forced to utilize Kieron and Sam’s help in order to complete her mission and stop an act of mass destruction.  However, the Newcastle teens have problems of their own; a fanatical right-wing extremist group and a mole inside Bex’s organisation are hunting them for the missing glasses, and they have no intention of leaving any witnesses alive.

Agent Without License is the first book in Lane’s AWOL series of young adult spy thrillers.  The second novel in this series, Last Safe Moment, is already set to be released later this year and will continue to follow the characters introduced in this first book.  Lane already has significant experience writing novels for a younger audience, with eight books in his bestselling Young Sherlock Holmes series, as well as his Lost Worlds and Crusoe Adventures books.  Other works from Lane include his science fiction based Netherspace series and several books set in the Dr Who extended universe.

The AWOL series is aimed towards a younger generation of reader and has been advertised for children in the 9-12 age range.  I felt that this book is an ideal read for that demographic, and it reminded me of some of the books that really caught my imagination when I was that age, including the Artemis Fowl and Alex Ryder novels.  While there is some violence and implied deaths within the storyline, it isn’t overly graphic and won’t traumatise the younger readers.  That being said, the overarching spy storyline isn’t dumbed down, and its intended audience will enjoy the realism and the references to events, ideologies and prejudices that currently affecting the real world.  There are also discussions about some mature themes, although nothing is too extreme or adult.  These small inclusions will be appreciated by the younger audience, as they will enjoy seeing some of these mature issues which they are likely already aware of included in their fiction.  Lane does make the obligatory attempts to tap into modern youth culture in order to appeal to his readers’ interests; fortunately, however, he does not go too overboard with his attempts like some authors do, and readers are not inundated with a flood of unnecessary pop culture references.  The author has also included multiple examples of the two teen heroes outsmarting older antagonists.  This is always a fun feature for the younger audience to enjoy, and these teen protagonists have some very inventive, and in some cases quite direct, solutions to the problems they encounter.  Overall, Agent Without License will prove to be an excellent read for the audience in its suggest age range.  Older readers will also have a blast with this book and enjoy the fantastic spy thriller elements.

For his AWOL series, Lane has leveraged his significant espionage experience to create intriguing novels with a sense of realism to their spy aspects.  In Agent Without License, the author lays down a foundation of tradecraft and spy techniques for the reader to enjoy as his protagonists attempt to save the world.  Lane explores the basics of spying in this book and provides information about current espionage agencies and how they impact on real world politics.  As a result, this is a fun and informative introduction to the spy thriller genre, and the younger readers will appreciate the exciting and mature content of this story.

One of the best parts of Agent Without Licence is the advanced technology that the protagonists use to help complete their mission.  This technology comes in the form of glasses and an ear piece, and is known as Augmented Reality Computer Capability (ARCC).  The ARCC is essentially Google Glass on steroids, and allows the operator to access information on anything they, or the person they are connected to, can see or interact with.  This is an awesome piece of fictional technology that sounds like an item espionage operatives could possibly already have access to.  Watching the young protagonist, Keiron, become acquainted with and learn to operate the glasses is an enjoyable part of the story which plays in well with the book’s espionage elements.  The information that Keiron obtains for himself and Bec is quiet interesting, and the ARCC technology provides them with threat analyses, escape routes, background history of the buildings they are going into, facial recognition and recording capabilities.  This is a seriously cool part of the book, and the technology’s presentation and use is a great element that will make the readers eager for glasses like these to appear on the market.

Agent Without License contains two separate but connected storylines and alternates between the two different point of view characters in each chapter.  One of the storylines focuses on Keiron in Newcastle, while the other follows Bex in India.  These storylines overlap throughout the chapters, and the characters are in constant communication with each other.  The different storylines are usually occurring at the same time, although Lane does occasionally move one storyline slightly ahead or behind to create some dramatic thrills.  Some of the most intriguing scenes feature Kerion communicating information through the ARCC glasses to Bex.  There is a fantastic interrogation sequence in which Bex uses the ARCC technology to stay in communication with Kerion as he provides her with the tools to crack her target and get the answers she is looking for.  This breakup in storylines also helps highlight the differences in espionage ability between the trained operative, Bex, and the amateur but highly skilled teenagers, Kerion and Sam.

Andrew Lane has produced a wonderful and highly enjoyable novel that is a fresh and exciting take on the teenage spy book and an excellent gateway into the world of spy thrillers.  Agent Without Licence is an ideal read for its intended younger demographic, while at the same time containing a range of mature story elements that will appeal to all ages.  This is a fantastic first instalment in a great new series that is highly recommended for young readers looking for a great adventure story.

My Rating:

Four stars