Evangeline Everton, aka Evie, isn’t having a great year. Her mum has passed away, and with no father on the scene she has been shipped off to live with her aunt Miriam, her mum’s twin sister, in a different city. As if that isn’t enough, Evie seems to be going through an unusually violent growth spurt which includes strange fizzing pins and needles in her spine, insomnia, and a loss of appetite. And New Hampshire, where she now lives, may be home to one of her best friends, Kitty, but it is also home to Kitty’s magnetic brother Jamie, with whom Evie has a Past.
But there is more to Miriam than it seems, and it’s not long before Evie discovers that Miriam’s secret is about to become her own. Evie, like Miriam, has altered DNA, the result of tampering by a government agency, Affinity, a couple of generations ago. The tampering, in the form of a synthetic gene known as Optimal, was originally intended to create a group of super-soldiers, but didn’t go quite to plan. As a result, there are now three types of DNA mutations. The first, Sparks, are carriers – they spark the abilities of others. The second, Strays, are killers, who attach to a Spark and won’t stop until that spark is dead. The third are Shields, defenders, designed to protect their Spark from the Stray. A Spark will only spark once. A Stray and Shield will remain attached to their Spark until either the Spark or Stray is dead. And then it begins again.
Evie’s first Spark is her best friend, Kitty. But Shields almost never manage to save their first Spark. And the presence of Jamie only adds to Evie’s distress and confusion. There’s something different about Evie though: her abilities seem to be stronger and improving faster than normal – but will it be enough?
I found it interesting that Craw, a New Zealand author, decided to set her debut novel in the USA, when really the location doesn’t seem to be all that important. I wonder whether this was to appeal to a potentially wider audience, or whether the next two books in this intended trilogy will make the choice of location more apparent. It certainly didn’t detract from the book, but had I not known this was a New Zealand writer, I would never have suspected it from the writing.
Evie is a great protagonist – like the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen she is a strong female character, but with flaws and insecurities that make her human and relatable. The book was compelling and I read it quickly, and the twists and turns made sense without being predictable.
The details about Affinity and Optimal were a bit long and overly complex, and there were way too many acronyms, but the plot wasn’t hard to follow even with only a skim read of Miriam’s explanations. It will be interesting to see how Craw handles this in the second and third books – allowing enough explanation for readers who haven’t read the first book without relitigating everything for those who have.
The blend of sci-fi “lite”, romance, and supernatural themes is well tested on the YA audience, and this new series brings a fresh perspective to the genre and will not disappoint. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Reviewed by Renee Boyer-Willisson
by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books