“Head On” is set in a near future world where a new disease (Haden’s) leaves some of the population completely unable to move, and yet they remain fully conscious in their minds. The solution? Those suffering from Haden’s can access a “threep” a type of robotic body that they control in order to interact with the world when they want to, and when they don’t? They hang out in a virtual world just for them. While “Head On” is the sequel to “Lock In” both books are their own entities in that, outside of the main character, FBI agents Chris Shane (a very, very wealthy Haden) and his partner Agent Vann, nothing from the two books overlap. They focus on totally different cases and Scalzi still explains the threeps and how Haden’s Syndrome works along with the prejudice those in their threeps face on a daily basis—both as micro aggressions and overt distrust. And while “Head On” is thoroughly enjoyable on its own, you’ll want to read “Lock In” first, trust me.
Imagine waking up naked, in a cell with two rotting corpses, and then a man in rags with two katana’s breaks down your prison door and basically says “come with me if you want to live”. That’s how we start “The Last Day in Hell” where our main female MC, January, wakes up confused, not knowing anything about herself or who she was, not even her real name, the only fact she knows is that she is naked, dead, and the date she died. When our main male MC, Jack, and his crew find her they explain the world January suddenly finds herself in, and how they have to traverse this hellscape full of monsters in order to reach a door that could potentially lead them out of Hell if they are chosen. They don’t know why they are in Hell to begin with, so proving themselves worthy of getting out of this place becomes difficult when no one really knows what to do in order to atone. The book starts off action packed and full of intrigue. I originally loved the premise of this story, but the more I read, the more I realized this book just wasn’t for me.
“Screamcatcher” is a young adult, fantasy adventure that centers on young Jorlene Pike, left alone at 17 when both of her parents die in a tragic accident. Jorlene—Jory—now helps her grandfather run their family curiosity shop that specializes heavily in Chippewa items and lore. Jory doesn’t necessarily put much stock into her heritage, until one night when she is having a sleepover with three of her other friends. The nightmares of her friends, as well as Jory, overload the old dream catcher in her apartment, they are then sucked into an alternate reality steeped heavily in Chippewa Indian folktale and lore. But as only Jory knows anything about what may be happening, and the strange alternate reality full of terrors they suddenly find themselves in, it’s up to her to navigate the twisting web and lead her friends to safety before they get stuck in the dream catcher forever—or until the nightmares kill them. This quick-paced adventure is nonstop action! Literally! The action almost never stops and features so many different native legends and harrowing survival scenarios, but the quick pace does mean this ended up being mainly a story focused on plot, and little character development.
“A Darker Shade of Magic” was one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year, so I was so excited to read the sequel with my friends again and dive back into these magical London’s, and snuggle up next to my favorite sad boi—Kell—and most deadly and clever of thieves—Lila. “A Gathering of Shadows” takes place 4 months after the end of the first book, and all our favorites are dealing with the repercussions of that epic battle. Well, except Lila, she does what she wants, consequences be damned, but more on that later. Kell remains in the palace with Rhy, who he sacrificed everything for. But instead of being thanked for this sacrifice, his adopted family drops all pretenses of Kell being their son. And while Rhy and Kell struggle to find a new balance, to move on, to come to terms with what their lives are now, Lila lives her dreams by being part of a pirate crew, finally “getting” her own ship. Which also introduces us to a new main character—Alucard. Who is really everything you want in a pirate so I loved his introduction to the story. I loved the all too real pain of what Kell goes through now, ostracized and trapped in his gilded cage of guilt and power, but, where I ADORED Lila in the first book, in the sequel, I found myself wanting to shake her.
“The Spec Set” is a little piece of neurodivergent lit that is part superhero adventure, part spy thriller, part alien encounter, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of coming-of-age drama for our MC, Emile. Emile has always taken care of his little brother Max; making sure he gets around, that he’s safe, that he has what he needs. But Emile knows that Max is brilliant, that he is capable of more, even though he doesn’t talk, if only their over protective father would stop coddling the kid. Then Max finds a therapist whose young daughter (Lily) not only helps Max, but introduces Emile to a whole new world, one where he can play a part—as long as he, too, can see his little brother for who, and what, he truly is. I really loved the narrative voice of this novel from the onset, it’s fun and just my kind of sarcastic. I also really loved how Emile views Max early on; as someone with a neurodivergent brother, I related to being a sibling’s keeper, and feeling like they were playing the system more than necessary. But there was also a lot happening in this short read, and I often felt like chunks were missing from the story.
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