Despite my love of this author’s works, I delayed reading this series because I burned out on dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories a few years ago. But I’m still a science-fiction geek at heart, bonus points if it involves aliens and alternate history, so I knew these books would eventually make it to the top of the queue. Though this book was released in 2018, the world presented here (even before the alien invasion) has unfortunately become more realistic rather than less. The story opens in what is essentially a facility for state-sponsored conversion therapy, and Phoenix does not shy away from what Austin and Tan have experienced during their time there. For those worried about that element, the inciting incident kicks off from the first chapter, and our heroes quickly use that to their advantage for escape, picking up Cormack along the way.
From the back-cover description, I assumed Mack would be a grizzled mountain man rather than the nerdy cinnamon roll the character actually is. However, his survival skills do help the trio more than once. Austin and Tan also bring their personal skills to the table, despite moments when each of the three questions their ability to make it through their new circumstances, even free from the confines of the reintegration camp. The heart of this story is the quiet moments the characters experience together between the scenes of external action and danger. The “slow burn” tag for this book is accurate and appropriately thematic.
In all the mayhem, it is unsurprising that humans continue to be one of the biggest threats faced by the guys. This element of conflict is a common theme of the alien invasion storyline used in this particular book, in which the story centers on the “everyman” out for survival rather than politicians or military officials who can become part of the bigger picture. This trilogy is the first science-fiction I’ve read by Phoenix rather than more contemporary or fantasy stories; however, it is obvious that she is familiar with the tropes of the genre and how to both use and bend them appropriately. Even better, Phoenix quickly establishes that the invaders are not some mindless horde but instead an intelligent foe—and that not all of them share the same goals for their arrival on Earth. I’m already excited to see where that will lead the external plot.
This book is not a stand-alone novel, though the cliffhanger is more of a “what happens next?” than a “they might die on the next page” ending. I am absolutely invested in what happens next enough to read the next book, both for the nontraditional relationship developing between Austin, Tan, and Mack and on the survival front.