Alien meets Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds in this thrilling debut novel about prison-guard-in-training, Kenzie, who is taken hostage by the superpowered criminal teens of the Sanctuary space station—only to have to band together with them when the station is attacked by mysterious creatures. Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything. As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward. But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners. At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely. As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.
Told in first-person past-tense from the sole perspective of a junior guard named Kenzie, the story takes place on a corporation-run orbital prison for juveniles. The book is a mashup of reliable tropes: evil corporations, a malevolent alien invasion, blind cult-like faith, insta-lust, brainwashy parenting, inexplicably super-powered teens, accelerated Stockholm syndrome…
What I Liked:
The brother/sister relationship between Cage and Rune was a highlight. Their personalities and powers were wildly divergent, yet still complementary. And their devotion to each other had solid premise, motivating them to care for each other’s romantic interest by extension.
The cast of prisoners is diverse—not only in terms of their personalities and backgrounds, but their ages, ethnicities, and superpowers. It was easy to appreciate the moral quandaries encountered by the escapees, and then by the survivors as a whole. The theme centers around shifting perspectives and questioning your biases, regardless of which “side” you’re on.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-The prose is functional, but the page-count and joltingly variable pacing gives the sense of it being overwritten. We don’t reach more of an inciting incident until page 75, and after that slow start, scenes lurch on ahead almost too quickly.
-Kenzie was a difficult character to connect with, which proved problematic when one considers the entire story is told from her perspective. She consistently makes poor decisions—both personally and strategically. Her obsession with a particular manga series seems the sole contributor to her personality outside of her obsession with doing the Omnisteller Concepts corporation proud (and, by extension, her one-note mother.) While the manga and references could have been interesting, the general effect instead made Kenzie seem younger and more immature than her 17 years and junior-guard status would have suggested.
-It was intensely frustrating how everyone kept making it sound like an alien incursion would be ridiculous—despite the mounting evidence. This insistent denial went on for more than 80 pages, and it made no sense. The story takes place on the 50th anniversary of the day mysterious ALIEN PROBES landed on Earth and randomly distributed superpowers to the subsequent generation of humanity. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how the idea of aliens was so far-fetched that all characters felt compelled to ignore the possibility.
-The story takes place in a compressed timeframe—over the course of roughly a day. Which is difficult to buy in hindsight. The amount of relationship building, both the romance between Kenzie/Cage and the inhuman-enemy-to-trusted-ally conversion between the prisoners and their lone survivor guard, occur at a pace so rushed it often defies believability—even after the minor hastening twist. And Kenzie’s switch in loyalty away from Omnistellar occurred awfully fast, given her lifelong programming.
-The suggestion that Sanctuary has some sort of advanced A.I. ended up falling by the wayside, as the prison itself showed no personality, intelligence, or capacity for communication—outside of one character’s ability to both physically and mentally bond with computers.
On the whole, this is the sort of story that would be ideal for those who looking for quick-burn romance and prefer minimal science in their science fiction.