Author: Garth Nix
Publishing Date: October 1, 1997
Genre: Science Fiction (YA)
In a brutal city of the future, the evil Overlords have decreed that no child may live a day past his 14th birthday. On that sad day, the children are taken to the factories and their organs are harvested to create the beasts and monsters that make up the Overlords sick game of war. As each overlord battles their creatures over the city for power, several children look for means of escape and survival in this bleak world. The children's only hope is the mysterious Shade--who recruits and houses the few children lucky enough to escape the dormitories. Yet there is something sinister about the disembodied hologram that is Shade...If he really wants to help the children, why does he keep sending them on missions that result in their harvesting and death?
Though this book is a tad outdated (they reference floppy disks at one point) I think it is still a pretty cool piece of MG fiction. The setting is a Dystopian society based in some city in America after the dissapearance of everyone above the age of 14. On the day that everyone left, the overlords took over. They herded all the children to the factories and dormitories to harvest for their bloody battles. It's been a few years since then and no one really remembers what the world used to be like. There's all this technology lying around, but the children were never taught what it is, they were blindly shepherded, raised, then slaughtered so that the Overlords could one-up each other.
The characters in this story were a little hard to get to know. There's Gold-Eye, Ella,Ninde, Drum, and Shade who take up the majority of the novel, but they are all kind of murky when it comes to character development. Gold-Eye was probably the most central main character as we see things through his eyes most often, though the perspective jumps around quite a bit. He was really hard to understand because he is so uneducated that he barely speaks English. Ella, Drum, and Ninde are kind of cookie-cutter characters of a "team". Nix needed a strong leader-Ella, the love interest- Ninde, and the Muscle-Drum. They really aren't all that interesting and don't really go through a lot of development even though they are constant presences in the story. Shade on the other hand, is highly developed and it's really interesting to see his internal battles and history of the humans since the time of the disappearance. He's a very...human...character near the end despite just being an upload of his own personality in a computer body. Very creepy and very cool, but he is a very confusing character and you never really know where he stands.
This book keeps you guessing. There is constant action going on, plus you get to see flashbacks and video archives of classified information that keeps you wondering just what side is good and which one is evil. You don't know whether Shade is the savior or the killer of the human race. He shelters the children who escape the overlords while simultaneously sacrificing them to achieve his own secretive ends. Even Shade battles with himself and represents an intense struggle between machine and man, as his uploaded personality wars with the drive of the computer that controls him to survive. I thought that the Sci-fi elements were fantastic, and I liked the descriptions of all of the different "beasts" that the overlords warred with, though sometimes the descriptions would only be a few sentences and I really wanted to get a clearer picture of just what these terrors looked like.
I was a little let down by the world building in this story. You never really understand what happened during the great disappearance of all the adults. You get that the Overlords somehow manipulated them into another dimension...but what happened to them? Where are they? Are they alive? Dead? Coming back any time soon? And for that matter...who are the Overlords and why exactly did they do this to the Earth? There are so many holes in the story that don't make sense. You never find out what kind of creatures the Overlords are and what kind of purpose they are fulfilling by warring with each other. It was a good book, but with so much missing, I couldn't really get into the story the way that I wanted too. Maybe with a little more expansion it could have gone from a good book to a great one.