Review of Mirage by Jenn Reese (Candlewick Press, March 5, 2013).
Mirage is the second volume of the Above World middle grades science fiction series by Jenn Reese.
Most middle grades books in the science fiction and fantasy area are fantasy; an actual science fiction adventure without fantasy elements is rare. This series is science fiction set on an Earth where groups of humans were adapted for different extreme environments because of planet-wide ecological issues. Different groups of people live under the ocean, in the high mountains, and in the desert. The main character of the series is Aluna, a girl from an isolationist undersea community. She decides that the elders will never solve the community’s problems so she must do it. In the first volume she is too young to have a tail instead of legs, but when she reaches 13 and can swallow the seed which will change her legs into a tail, her lack of respect for authority gets her kicked out of the coming-of-age ceremony. She simply takes her seed with her and runs away to the surface. As the second book opens, she and her friends are traveling in the desert after having defeated the evil clone man who was restricting the power to the underwater cities of Aluna’s people.
They go to warn the desert Equians of the evil clones who are trying to take control of the various cities. Things don’t go as planned since the clone is already there and entrenched with the leadership. The group picks up some new friends and has another trip through the desert to another desert city but it is inhabited by Serpenti. Dash had made friends with one when the Equians captured a couple of Serpenti, so they are given refuge and healed rather than killed. There is a big gathering of Equians where the leader of all the tribes will be determined, so all the young people and their friends attend and take part. Will the evil clone be revealed as the dishonorable woman she is or will the High Khan be fooled?
This book is an exciting science fiction adventure with horses, martial arts, geeks who repair technology, and young teen characters who bond together and make their own family. Also Aluna and Dash seem to have a bit of love interest starting up. The cover art on both volumes would never have led us to pick them up as the designs in no way depict science fiction, but because Reese’s name was known to us from a previous adult book with a martial arts heroine that we really liked (Jade Tiger, published by Juno in 2007), we saw her announcement on Facebook and went in search of them. You should, too.
The female lead is strong and an independent thinker who realizes that the adults are wrong to not seek help from other groups. All the adults seem to be bound by honor and they nearly let honor cause them to kill young teens who disagree with them. The martial arts training Aluna does as she moves around between groups is well done and realistic. The psychology of Aluna in regards to her training was particularly well done, and rang completely true with Your Humble Reviewers, who have some years of martial arts experience themselves. The science is not dealt with in-depth because of the age level, but given the far future time period and that everything was done by gene modification, nothing jumped out as being implausible.
A science fiction adventure with a martial arts heroine who rides an intelligent horse and has a boyfriend who wields a big sword? What young person wouldn’t love it? Aluna’s two techie best friends are also a couple, one a winged girl from the mountain area and the other a younger boy from Aluna’s village who has followed her across the world. All four are strong and interesting characters that have formed sibling-like bonds as they have traveled, fought, and rescued each other.