3 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of Crash.
These books were a really mixed bag for me. The action and science fiction parts I quite enjoyed while the romance and realistic fiction parts left me unsatisfied and restless.
Miki is a somewhat normal girl who finds herself sucked into a game where she must kill aliens. If she manages to make it through the round, she will be spit back into her normal life at the moment she left it, with all of her wounds healed and more points on her score, ready to be pulled back in at anytime in the future. If she dies, she dies in real life. One of her teammates is an old friend from school (Luka) and her team leader is the handsome Jackson, who pushes affection away for fear of what it might lead to (because that is not enough of a YA trope already).
The science fiction premise of kids being forced to battle aliens for their planet is one I have enjoyed in the past (see: Ender’s Game) and I also like the idea of someone ping-ponging between real life and wild adventures and trying to keep things balanced. Unfortunately, this trilogy took a science fiction plot about humans fighting aliens under the direction of The Committee and badly stitched it together with a novel about a girl trying to get over her mother’s death, growing apart from her best friend, and dealing with her father’s alcoholism. The two did not merge well, so you are constantly thrown from one style of book to another and back again. I found it disorienting. The game and the battle between the aliens is exciting and action-paced, and then you are slammed into the tempo of a realistic fiction novel and then sped up for more action. It reads like a car with really touchy brakes. It also means that I felt a lot more for the kids in the game being forced to risk their lives than I did for Miki’s friends. While I would normally be more sympathetic to their everyday cares, the contrast between the two worlds did not paint them in an exceptionally good light. They seem petty and silly next to the other set of characters losing people they love and being shot at by aliens. They end up being grating and annoying.
The love plot line really didn’t take me at all. The bad/ moody guy trying to hide his goodness by being bad and moody is so overused at this point it just turns me right off. I don’t like jerks, and I want someone to respect me enough to explain to me rationally why being cozy might not be the best idea, rather than trying to drive me away by being mean. Let’s have a little self-respect people and not always fall for the person trying to emotionally manipulate you instead of having to explain himself/ herself the way a responsible adult might.
What kept me reading throughout was the foreshadowing, and then outright declarations, that everything is not what it seems in the game. Miki and Jackson start seeing Jackson’s sister, who is supposed to be dead, and The Committee starts being evasive about whether kids are ever allowed to stop playing or not (the rumour is 1000 points means you get out). I appreciated the second and the third books because they wrapped up the story. They also started to overlap the game and Miki’s everyday reality which brought more tension into the story. She is not allowed to talk about the game too precisely in the real world but people she knows and loves are starting to get hurt, so it becomes harder and harder not to.
The science fiction element was well-done. The alien conflict being framed as a video game made it fun and seemed like a nice homage to Orson Scott Card. Adding points and the possibility of escape through those points gave a competitive edge to what otherwise would be a cooperative endeavour. The characters were all written to react differently under stress. Some were realistic (starts to crumble immediately) while some were unrealistic (makes it 5+ years without going insane) but I appreciated the author trying to add some diversity.
I would not say these are worth starting, but if you have started them, then they are worth finishing. The quality does not decline throughout and the third book wraps up the hanging threads nicely. I just wish the disparate elements fit together more neatly.