UNCRASHABLE DAKOTA

Air travel is reimagined in this sluggish alternative-history novel.

Like the Titanic that inspired it, the Wendell Dakota airship, powered by farting beetles whose gaseous emissions are powerful enough to rip trees from the ground, is said to be uncrashable. But on its maiden voyage in April 1912, mutinous sailors and a bizarre beetle-worshipping cult hijack the ship. Who is the mastermind behind the coup? Hollis Dakota, son of the ship’s deceased, famed designer, is determined to find out, along with apprentice beetle keeper Delia Cosgrove. But their investigation is hindered by Rob Castor, son of the ship’s chief operating officer, Jefferson Castor. Rob’s father is married to Hollis’ recently widowed mother, and when Hollis finds evidence that Jefferson Castor may have orchestrated the mutiny, he and Rob are at each other’s throats. Then the Dakota hits an invisible obstruction in the sky, and the battle lines disappear as everyone fights for survival. With such a crackerjack premise, this plot should rise like beetle gas. And certain parts do, like the flashbacks that detail Hollis’ grandfather’s discovery of the beetles’ talent during the American Civil War. But dense third-person prose that constantly telegraphs every character’s motivations slows the rest of the action to a crawl, and the story quickly sinks beneath its weight.

Leaden. (Steampunk. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9630-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes

LEGEND

From the Legend series , Vol. 1

A gripping thriller in dystopic future Los Angeles.

Fifteen-year-olds June and Day live completely different lives in the glorious Republic. June is rich and brilliant, the only candidate ever to get a perfect score in the Trials, and is destined for a glowing career in the military. She looks forward to the day when she can join up and fight the Republic’s treacherous enemies east of the Dakotas. Day, on the other hand, is an anonymous street rat, a slum child who failed his own Trial. He's also the Republic's most wanted criminal, prone to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. When tragedies strike both their families, the two brilliant teens are thrown into direct opposition. In alternating first-person narratives, Day and June experience coming-of-age adventures in the midst of spying, theft and daredevil combat. Their voices are distinct and richly drawn, from Day’s self-deprecating affection for others to June's Holmesian attention to detail. All the flavor of a post-apocalyptic setting—plagues, class warfare, maniacal soldiers—escalates to greater complexity while leaving space for further worldbuilding in the sequel.

This is no didactic near-future warning of present evils, but a cinematic adventure featuring endearing, compelling heroes . (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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