Sunday, June 8, 2014

Never Fade [Review]

Title: Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
Series: The Darkest Minds #2
Genre: Science-Fiction
What They Say:
Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

What I Say:
I was worried that the first book in Bracken's Darkest Minds series had been too good to follow up, but I was quickly proved wrong. This book had underground organizations, a new gang of kick-ass kids, and a feeling of constant and fatigued angst That said:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Plot: wow
When we last saw Ruby, she was joining the Children's League a group of freedom fighters/terrorists hell-bent on tearing down President Gray's regime through violence and subterfuge, but with good intentions (maybe). Liam has been let go in exchange for Ruby's loyalty - but in her hysteria and sudden angst, she's erased his memories of her, in hopes that he can move on and be safe without coming back for her. However, she doesn't take into account that Liam Stewart sprints towards danger by nature, so her sacrifice is quickly rendered pointless - to her great dismay. While she's been doing top secret spy-type missions with her teammates - the bitchy Vida and the hyperactive Jude - Liam's unwitting found himself in possession of a Super Important Flashdrive after switching coats with his brother, a top-level agent of the CL who'll be royally screwed if he doesn't get it back. In fact - the info on the drive is so important that they'll all be screwed if they don't find him before the corrupt agents of the CL do. So of course, despite the high emotional/angsty toll it will no-doubt have, volunteers gladly for this highly dangerous mission. After a series of coincidences and close calls with capture, her solo mission grows to a team effort: Ruby, Vida, Jude, and Chubs vs. The World. The task: Find Liam, get the flash drive, bring both back to California. Simple. (Not.)

This book doesn't stray too far from the formula of the first, but considering the high volume of new information and unanswered questions, I was glad for that small gift of familiarity. I enjoyed the balance of old characters and new ones, popping up at unexpected points in the journey and sending them on completely pointless side-journeys, for the most part. The constant close calls with death or capture got a bit tiring, but it was probably an honest depiction of their dystopian world - danger hides around literally every corner. Their chances of success were very slim and it actually felt that way. Well done. Unlike the ending of the first book, this ending was highly satisfying. Of course there are unanswered questions, but I don't feel - as a reader - like I'm groping around in the dark, desperately trying to understand what the hell is going on. Also, considering how crap Ruby's life has become, I'm glad she gets one tiny victory in the end.

Characters: ooh
Ruby has grown and hardened when we meet her again. She's essentially miserable from start to end. Even when relatively good things are happening. It's very clearly explained why things are so horrible for her, but I can't help but feel like a lot of it is in her head. Like, at one point she uses her power to hurt someone who's trying to hurt her, and her internal anguish over it spans pages, fueled by a fear of being similar to Clancy Gray - who uses his abilities solely for his own personal gain. But, like, she isn't using her abilities for personal gain, and unless she's systematically brainwashing everyone she meets to get her way, she's nothing like Clancy! I assume this is one of those realizations that will strike Ruby on the last page of the last book, but I'm willing to wait for her to get her shit together in the meantime.

Vida and Jude are introduced in this book as Ruby's co-agents in the CL. I really didn't see the point of either of them. Vida is so constantly unpleasant that I kept waiting for some clear moment of redemption - where she reveals that she's not actually a rude and unlikeable person. But that doesn't happen. Yes, she helps the team throughout their journey, and she doesn't do anything to hinder them, but her constant jerkass commentary was like a loud buzzing in the background of the story. Another loud buzzing in the background was Jude, who seemed to exist solely to get them into danger by making noise, or to ask questions as the Audience-Insert but only in the most obnoxious way/at the most inappropriate time, or to just be blatantly naive about their whole experience. Over time, he became the book equivalent of an injured puppy, and I felt like his story was played mostly to add some easy tragedy/guilt to the ending, which he didn't really deserve, as a character.

Relationships: wow
Ruby and Liam - Considering the events at the end of Book 1, these two don't interact much in this one, at least not the way they did before. Liam's upset, with reason, that his brain has been addled against his will, and not even well (considering his memories are gone, but his feelings are intact - making him essentially go mad). Ruby feels that she's done the right thing at first, which makes her miserable that she has to give Liam up. Then, Ruby realizes she's done the wrong things, making her miserable and guilty at the damage she's caused. I said in my last review that these two would have one hell of a hard time surviving this series, and I was right. That said, I'm rooting for these two in Book 3.

Special Features: ooh
The Children's League are described from many different viewpoints throughout the series so far, which leads to a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the reader, and a nice topping of moral ambiguity to go along with it. Like, yes they're trying to change things in the world by deposing President Gray, but despite their name, they don't really have the children's best interest in mind. Now, at first I thought this was completely heinous, much like Liam did, but at one point Ruby learns that there are only like 20,000 children left out there. In that case, it makes a teeny bit of sense that they're focusing on the well-being of the millions of adults still alive. That said, it's completely misleading and exploitative to call themselves The Children's League just to snare Psi kids into thinking they've found a safe haven when they're actually just being used for their abilities. If you're going to take advantage of the kids, at least be honest about it. Interested to see what becomes of TCL in the last book, after the events at the end of Never Fade. Fingers crossed Cate's still around!

Parting Quote:
  “I was just an okay person."
This is the highest that Ruby's self-esteem ever gets, to be honest.


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