If you're lucky, you live to fight another day.
In a futuristic urban wasteland, evil Overlords have decreed that no human shall live a day past their fourteenth birthday. On that Sad Birthday, the children of the Dorms are taken to the Meat Factory, where they will be made into creatures whose sole purpose is to kill.
The mysterious Shade - once a man, but now more like the machines he fights - recruits the few teenagers who escape into a secret resistance force. With luck, cunning, and skill, four of Shade's children come closer than any to discovering the source of the Overlord's power - and the key to their downfall. But the closer they get, the more ruthless Shade seems to become...
~Bought, paperback version
Published: 1997 by Harper.
I am a big fan of Garth Nix's work. He's the author of the Sabriel series and the Keys to the Kingdom series, both of which feature (or used to feature) highly on my list of favorite books. So, I picked this book up with that thought in mind.
The synopsis up there doesn't do this book justice, in my eyes. The story revolves around these four teenagers, all of whom seem older than they are thanks to years on the run from monsters and Overlords. There's Ella, the "avenging angel" of the bunch, who can create or transport any object to her hands; Drum, a big boy who'd been forced steroids (you know what those do to you, right?) with the power of telekinesis; Ninde, a perky, flirty girl with the power to read minds; and Gold-eye, a boy just off the streets with the power to predict the immediate future.
These four unusual characters pretty much do Shade's dirty work. They sneak around the city, breaking into places where the Overlord has complete control, and they try to uncover information on the Overlord's weaknesses.
What I really, absolutely loved about this book is the worldbuilding. There are incredible monsters, built from the bodies and brains of children, that battle each other for the amusement of the Overlords. It kind of reminds me of a giant game of chess, but with seven colors (seven Overlords) instead of two, and like Harry Potter chess, where one figure gets smashed instead of put to the side. The children are in this nasty world where Trackers could smell them out, or Myrmidon soldiers could capture them.
The children themselves are warriors. I felt Gold-eye and Ninde didn't do as much fighting - mainly Ninde reads minds to help them avoid trouble, while Gold-eye is too inexperienced to do much fighting - but Ella and Drum were awesome, independent characters. They were my favorite, by far. Shade was... well, shady. He spent children's lives like they were money. He seemed almost more dangerous than the Overlords, because he was a "friend".
There was some swearing and sexual references in this novel. It threw me off a bit, because they are generally not a part of other Nix novels. While it wasn't a ton of it - some f words, but also a lot of s words, and Gold-Eye had to learn about sex sometime, I suppose - it still made me a little upset. I'm not much of a changeable person, especially when it comes to experimentation with these two. But there wasn't any actual... intercourse, and the swearing wasn't nearly as bad as other YA novels I've come across.
There is no lack in pacing. All of the events are sparked by the one before, and it all begins crashing down like dominoes... very fast-paced. Also, every other chapter is like this "computer archive" recording, where characters are having recorded conversations for the future listeners. Some of those recording are done by Shade - which gives you insight into his thoughts, almost like you're reading his diary - while some are Shade asking a question and the characters responding, while still others are conversations recorded by Shade without the consent of the children. Sorry if I don't explain that right, my mind is a little frazzled.
All in all, it's worth reading, especially if you've never read his other works and think you know what to expect. It's not for the faint of heart - lots of battle and monsters and evil. A little swearing and sexual references, but overall a pretty awesome novel.