I haven’t taken any time to review books in a long time, but recently came across a Y.A. (young adult) sci-fi book that looked so promising, I had to grab the ARC copy. I’m SO glad I did, because Nyxia by Scott Reintgen is one of the best YA sci-fi books I’ve read in a long time. It features a host of multi-cultural characters (which is unusual!), unexpected twists, great pacing, and some unique sci-fi elements that were a joy to read for the geeky girl inside me. 😉 I devoured it in 2 days and am chomping at the bit to get the other 2 books in the series (which are, as yet, unpublished)! It reminds me of a mix of Hunger Games, The Maze, and maybe a smattering of Red Rising – and yet it’s quite original.
Here’s the book’s description, and then I’ll add my comments:
Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.
Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.
But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.
There’s a bit of mystery swirling throughout the entire book. The author only hints at bits and pieces about the Babel Corporation – letting you know there is something more going on, but not unraveling what that something is. It’s clear Babel is the most powerful corporation on Earth, and it’s clear they aren’t upfront with their recruits. That’s about all that’s clear! They aren’t telling them something about the mysterious and most valuable material ever found – Nyxia, or the circumstances surrounding their trip to Eden. Babel is lying about… something. Babel is hiding…something, not only from the recruits, but from those left behind on Earth. That thread winds itself through the novel, leaving tantalizing clues, but never giving any concrete answers.
There is also something about Nyxia itself that is almost frightening. From it, Babel has achieved unheard of technological advances. It’s a material that can be manipulated into almost anything, and yet you wonder, is the material itself doing the manipulating?
Then, there is the mystery surrounding the Adamaites, the native inhabitants of Eden who are more technologically advanced and powerful then we are. There is something that has gone wrong with the Adamites and it seems they are unable to reproduce. The youngest Adamite is in his 50’s and for some reason it appears that there are no more females. They treasure and adore children…which is why these 10 teens are hurtling through space on their way to Eden. Only children will be allowed on the planet to mine Nyxia and a competition ensues. Out of the 10 recruits, only 8 will be chosen.
The children chosen are from poverty stricken backgrounds, all of them with a huge and desperate needs. Babel exploits those needs in what becomes a brutal competition. The losing 2 will get a small amount of money, but the winners will get everything beyond their wildest dreams, not only for themselves, but for their families. For Emmett it means saving his mother from the cancer that’s killing her. If he loses the competition, he could very well lose her. This isn’t just about being rich (and famous), it’s about life and death. That makes some interesting moral situations that don’t always have an easy answer. The desperation all of the recruits face is also something that makes it easier for them to ignore the undercurrent that something isn’t quite right.
I loved the character development throughout the book as these teens are stretched to their limits – both physically and sometimes morally. The adults in the book are also multi-layered. No one is purely black or white as far as good and evil and the struggles the characters go through are thought-provoking. I loved the honest approach to these struggles. It wasn’t always clear what a character would do in different situations, and the author didn’t shy away from allowing even Emmett to have flaws that he had to work and sometimes fight through. You grow to love him and other characters and you also can’t help but hate some as well, and yet nothing is ever totally set in stone in that regard. Even the hated characters have their reasons for being the way they are and because of the depth of the character development and the complexity of the situations, it’s not always totally clear who you want to win, or who you want to lose…
As a parent, I can say that this books is quite CLEAN and promotes morality – but in an honest and non-preachy way. The characters have their struggles, but it’s refreshing to see some take the higher path, even if it could turn out to be a sacrifice. Emmett’s background is also positive. He comes from a rough neighborhood, but he’s stayed away from drugs and other negative lifestyle choices. He loves and honors his parents, and their relationship is touching. There is a little bit of “boy likes girl” with a scene of holding hands and a non-descriptive kiss. The way it’s handled is pretty wholesome and doesn’t seem contrived or out of place, nor is it “obsessive.”
Another thing I noticed is that there are multiple minor religious references. At first I wasn’t sure if they were underhanded digs toward Christians, but over time figured out that the author is coming from a Christian background and drops little tidbits here and there that aren’t proselytizing, but appear as the main character struggles to understand things or in reference to Babel. They won’t offend a secular reader, and they are refreshing to a Christian reader. I get tired of YA books with anti-Christian agendas. This isn’t one of them.
There is a LOT of violence in this book,
including a death that was a bit unexpected (think: a Game of Thrones killing that gets rid of a character you LIKE).
***end of spoiler alert***
The violence is probably at the level of Hunger Games. I recall only one incident of very minor cursing (the word hell).
The “about the author” note states: Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms. He hopes that his former students see themselves, vibrant and on the page, in characters like Emmett.
I think he’s done a tremendous job in creating a page-turning novel that does exactly what he was trying to do. It’s very difficult to find any worthwhile sci-fi that is accessible to teens (and adults who like YA novels!!). Nyxia does a terrific job not only as a sci-fi novel, but also as something that tackles tough issues and brings to life a multitude of cultures in a fresh and exciting way. If you have a teen who loves sci-fi or you want to encourage a student to dip his/her feet into that genre, Nyxia definitely fills a YA sci-fi void! I can’t wait for the next two books to come out!!