Dystopian fiction! Kids love this stuff! And really, it's not hard to see why in this day and age; given the tumultuous political climate, and the regressed state of certain social factions, 2019 feels like the perfect time to enjoy a good, allegorical uprising. While novels like THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, and THE MAZE RUNNER pre-date Trump's New America, it renders them all the more prescient given the way they fell effortlessly into the hands of our next generation of voters. Inspiring teens to read actual books (!) is just the icing on the cake.
Now there's THE ALTERED WAKE. Via the pen of Baltimore author Megan Morgan, we're dropped into an ambiguous future era in which society has first fallen and then risen again in the form of a militarized government. Rebels lurk on the borders of nation-state Cotarian, and order is maintained by soldiers known as Sentinels, who are all kind of like Black Widow and Hawkeye on motorcycles. Set against a backdrop of shadowy political intrigue, we follow the adventures Cameron Kardell, a sword-wielding Sentinel hot on the trail of her best friend Erika Harfield, a fellow soldier gone rogue. Harfield, we discover, is one of the "altered" -- a long-fabled meta-human with genetically implanted capabilities specific to their type; in the case of Erika, telepathy and telekinesis. Uniting with Erika's brother, the University scientist William Harfield (whom, it seems, carries both the family gene, as well as the ability to throw fire and ice from his hands during periods of stress), the two attempt to find Erika before her powers send her into Dark Phoenix mode; simultaneously, Kardell and Harfield are out to discover the secret behind the emergence of these super powers in seemingly random individuals...including Kardell herself.
That's a rough sketch, because there's plenty more to unpack. THE ALTERED WAKE sets the board for its three announced sequels, and introduces us to an ensemble of characters whom may or may not be exactly as they appear. It's more or less the X-MEN, at least insofar as we follow a group of young adults discovering their superhuman abilities in a world that won't allow it. Like any epic, this first volume establishes the universe and the people who inhabit it, while teasing the overarching story still to come. It's a good read, and a fast read, and one that leaves you wanting to pick up the next volume straight away.
There are several reasons for this. Beyond simply functioning as an entertaining piece of sci-fi prose, THE ALTERED WAKE has a striking quasi-feminist slant that takes a step beyond, say, making the protagonist female in the latest STAR WARS trilogy. Not only is our lead a woman, but so is her adversary; male characters take largely secondary roles that have typically been reserved for the ladies within the realm of genre fiction. The menfolk are the cooks in the kitchen: they work in the lab, research the information, facilitate the hero's discovery, et al. Those who serve as leaders are weak and ineffectual, or corrupt and therefore dangerous. It's a nearly complete inversion of gender roles, right down to the way that possible future romance subplots are established, and the notion that only women can birth a new order. You can't grab 'em by the pussy when they're blasting you to pieces with their mind powers.
THE ALTERED WAKE is technically YA Fiction, but in the same way as its aforementioned models -- meaning, girls will love it, and so will their moms. Maybe they can pass it along to Dad and Junior, who might benefit from a fresh perspective that never soapboxes, but definitely registers. It's a novel waiting for a sequel, and the inevitable film series required for both Hot Topic immortality, as well as Twitter rage from incels who are just as enraged by the sight of a sword-swinging Supergirl as they're turned on by it.
Find THE ALTERED WAKE on Amazon HERE.