Monday, May 18, 2015

The Nightsiders:The Orphan Army

The Nightsiders: The Orphan Army
Jonathan Maberry
Simon and Schuster, 2015  389 pgs
Grades 4-7
Science Fiction
Nightsiders Series #1

Milo Silk is use to life on the run.  Living in a house with electricity, heat, and food at the ready is a thing of the not-too-distant past.  Ever since the alien invasion of the "Bugs", humans are scarce and hunted, forced to live in nomadic communities, always in hiding and scraping together a meager existence.  Milo is part of a team of kids who scavenge crashed alien spaceships, and anything else they can find, for food and parts.  His father has long disappeared and he and his mother, an important commander in the resistance, are part of a secret community.  Milo has very vivid dreams, where he is visited by "the Witch of the World" who shows him the future.  Milo keeps a dream journal recording the prophesies, so it should come as no surprise when the worst happens.  His mother leaves for battle and then the Bugs invade their community and led by the battle crazy commander, The Huntsman.  Milo manages to escape and falls in with a rag-tag band of magical creatures, the Nightsiders.  They have always lived among humans, but have been pushed into the shadows to escape percussion.  They also are battling the Bugs and the Huntsman and Milo joins forces with them.  This group of Nightsiders are the "Orphan Army" of the title, since they, like Milo, have lost their parents in through circumstances relating to the invasion.  Milo and his new friends use courage, magic and wits to infiltrate the Bug's hive and destroy their eggs and hope for the future.  Unfortunately, the Huntsman escapes, leading to more adventures in the next installment in the series.

Dystopian science fiction remains hot and Nightsiders is a great choice for kids not mature enough for teen works.  Its a particularly good choice for boys, being that most of the characters are male, the book is action driven, and there is not even a wiff of romance.  A few girl characters make this book accessible to girls as well.  Maberry, a longtime author of horror fiction for adults, tries his hand at writing books for young people.  Although clearly more science fiction than horror, the book retains a dark atmosphere and doesn't shy away from violence and the stuff of nightmares. Maberry offers his readers some important themes including protecting the earth, tolerance of others, and not to take what we have in this life for granted.  The magical creatures that make-up the orphan army are pretty cool.  The leader is a female werewolf, which is unusual.  Other creatures include a sprite, a fire salamander, a tree boy, and a rock boy, who only says "Mook", which is reminiscent of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Reading this book feels like reading a comic book without the comics, which will appeal to young readers.  There is plenty of action, a little magic, and many interesting characters that were easy to keep straight.  Still, the book felt a little long for me and took me a while to get through.  Maberry ended the tale in a satisfying conclusion, yet with enough loose ends that kids will want to crack into the second installment.  The big burning question is: did Milo's mother survive?  And how about his father?  Hopefully, Maberry will have these characters pop-up again as the series continues.  Give to fans of The Maze Runner.

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