The “sophomore slump” or “second book blues” has killed more series for me than I would care to list. Most often the problem is that the author fails to deliver a story while still keeping things suspenseful for book three. We get stuck in a quagmire that sucks the life from the characters and us as readers. Andrew Fukuda does the seemingly impossible hat trick of exceeding his debut novel, providing a knock-out second book, and leaving us absolutely anxious for book three.
In The Hunt, we learned that the world has changed. Those now called people are blood drinkers; they are shockingly strong and fast, intolerant of sunlight and water, and several steps down on the intelligence quotient. Humans are now referred to as “hepers” and are the greatest of delicacies to the fanged hordes that populate our once great cities. Driven to the edge of extinction by the insatiable appetite of their hunters, only humans who have been able to blend in survive. The only exceptions are the children kept in the dome at an institute devoted to heper studies. When those children escape, a massive hunt ensues.
When last we left Gene, Sissy, and the boys they were sailing down an unnamed river following the path The Scientist has set for them. The trip has been far from easy, not only because of lack of supplies but because their hunters continue to pursue them against impossible odds. The water is all that keeps them from going from prey to food.
Trapped together on a tiny boat with their survival an equation which can change from moment to moment, the tensions run high. Having lived among people all his life, Gene at first finds it hard to accept the humans as his equals, even though he himself is human. He has been taught they lack intelligence but quickly learns that to be far from the case. The children, especially Sissy, are extremely capable thanks to the training they received from The Scientist. Gene finds himself grudgingly respecting them but still struggles with feelings of guilt over Ashley June, the human girl who sacrificed herself to give him a chance to get away. Adding to that feeling is the fact that he knows something about The Scientist that none of the others do; the man who was such a loving teacher to these misfits is the father who deserted him.
Even though Gene finds it hard to trust the directions of the father he feels betrayed him, he also feels the group has no choice but to do so. Their continued peril has proven to them that the hunters following them will never stop. Unless they reach some kind of sanctuary they will perish. A chance discovery, some remembered fragments of conversation, and tools learned from a game played long ago lead the group to the path they are meant to take. And that trail leads them to the odd community known as The Mission.
Believing they have found “The Land of Milk and Honey, Fruit and Sunshine” promised them by The Scientist all of them are initially delighted by the seemingly warm and gracious reception they receive in this community of humans. But as Sissy and Gene begin to look around them more closely they become very suspicious of what they are seeing. Something here is not right. But just what is it that is wrong?
This is where Fukuda displays a rare talent. It would have been easy for the story to bog down in the odd community and lose all focus. It would have been equally easy to make fools of our characters by having them follow false trails straight to their own demise. But the story’s pacing remains lightening quick and these kids don’t lose all their survival skills the minute they spot a full plate (and if you had starved for as long as they had and been through half their physical abuse, no one could blame you if you did.) The path they take here felt realistically human to me – the sense of joy at reaching sanctuary, the sense of pardon at the odd quirks you find in your new rescuers and the slow willingness to realize that sometimes comfort comes at too high a price. I realized what was going on and why almost right away . I also realized that this was a needed stop on our journey to the ultimate solution and that it was a very well done one. When I left the story my only regret was that I would be waiting months to reach the conclusion of this compelling tale. This was different from when I left book one and was mildly entertained but not exactly longing for the next step. Now I am anxious to find out what happens.
I think part of that is the subtle character growth that goes on here. In the first novel Gene has been alone for many years. He has forgotten how to care for others. More over, his memories of caring are overwhelmed by his memories of loss. Here he slowly becomes drawn into the embrace of the band of refugees. He begins to value the lives around him and not just his own skin. This is slow and always seemingly done with reluctance but the process is taking place.
Another factor is that Gene is going from just being cunning to being intelligent. For years he has had nothing but survival on his mind. Now as he begins a great quest for answers and solutions he starts to exercise his brain in ways beyond the immediate saving of his skin. The journey and battle for more than just survival do this for all the characters but it is most pronounced in Gene; it’s really his story.
Additionally, the puzzle of just who The Scientist is and what exactly is happening in the world has now reached a climax. We have enough information to really whet our appetites for more.
Fans of YA paranormals/science fiction will not want to miss out on this trilogy. I am delighted to give a very strong endorsement to this second novel.