Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: H. Prévost
Author: H. Prévost
Someone has probably said it before, but excellent young adult (YA) novels are just excellent novels where the most of the protagonists are young adults (12-18 years old). They can be in any genre—romance, thriller, sci-fi, you name it. Moreover, especially if they’re excellent, they can appeal to adults too. In fact, the ages of the protagonists are often irrelevant to readers’ enjoyment or lack of it. For example, I often wondered about Rowling’s dark writing in the later installments in her famous YA fantasy series. With Twilight and The Hunger Games, it’s clear that young adults like to be shocked with blood and gore and titillated by sexual scenes as much as adults.
While there is blood and gore in Desert Fire, there is very little sex—the main character is a bit naïve for seventeen, in fact. This book is definitely PG-13. Don’t let these comments fool you, though. Ms. Prévost’s novel is one hell of a thriller. In fact, she puts her protagonists—the Canadian Nick and his UAE accomplices Faris and Mohammed—literally through hell. While this is standard thriller writing (put your heroes in impossible situations and watch them squirm), it’s refreshing to see it done so well in a YA novel. There are no vampires or werewolves here—no magicians either. Just a seventeen-year-old trying to do what’s right and get through his parents’ marital troubles as well.
Said troubles takes Nick to the UAE as mom, sister, and he try to escape from an overbearing husband and father. His mother and older sister take teaching jobs. Nick ends up in their English-only school where he meets Faris and Mohammed. Out in the desert, this international trio spots the takedown of an experimental jet, visit its remains, and Nick comes away with a CD-Rom that you just know will get him into trouble. In fact, the trio have stumbled upon a terrorist plot and scheme to sale Top Secret info that keeps you guessing as Nick and friends try to figure out what’s going on.
Ms. Prévost ably mixes first and third person here, something I often do myself to give the thriller an aura of mystery and suspense and to enter more inside the head of the main protagonist. The thoughts inside that head are a bit immature for a seventeen-year-old, as I said, but his pain and suffering are real. At several times in the story, Nick agonizes between leaving well enough alone and figuring out the mystery. I feel his agony—this is good writing, for young adults or otherwise.
I also feel Nick’s cultural shock. I was a bit older when I stepped off the plane in Bogotá, Colombia. I’m not sure I could have managed the cultural shock at seventeen. It’s easy enough to read about it, but hard to experience it. Ms. Prévost has experienced it and does a good job of transmitting that angst to the printed page in this novel. It’s not the main theme, of course, but cultural shock is another hoop that Nick must jump through. To their credit, the two hell raising brothers Faris and Mohammed help Nick along the road to international understanding. A pretty Arabian princess also provides motivation.
Desert Fire is an exciting book for readers of all ages. It certainly had me on the edge of my chair. I had my finger of Jameson’s to calm my nerves—don’t ask me how young adults will do it. There are many scenes here that remind me of Ludlum’s Bourne series. I know why the author gave Nick the body of a seventeen-year-old if not the mind—it would be hard to imagine a younger boy surviving his physical ordeals and mental tortures. Even Nick wouldn’t have if his father hadn’t pounded survival skills into him.
I’m not going to go into whether the language here is appropriate for young adults. I’m not sure whether I agree with the experts about the vocabularies of twelve-year-olds anyway. It’s too much of a moving target. I tried my own YA novel out on my twelve-year-old niece, but she has continuously surprised me with her precocious reading vocabulary and writing skills, so my trial was probably flawed. Kids nowadays are all over the board. Maybe we have J. K. Rowling to thank for that. Or, role-playing video games are making kids read more because they want to go beyond the limited roles they find in the games. I’m sure there’s a doctoral student writing a thesis about this somewhere right at this moment.
As always, in my role as a reviewer, I did find a few nits to pick, all trivial here. First, there is one occasion where the first person/third person dance went awry and momentarily confused me. Second, the author speaks of pilots’ suits that are “designed to exert pressure on their legs and abdomens to keep blood from rushing away from the brain during high speed flights.” [Italics mine.] Test pilots out there can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s the acceleration that produces the blackouts, not the speed. Pilots in high-g turns can blackout (8 or 9 g’s is the limit).
Finally, I found the father’s change of character at the end disconcerting. It’s possible that the author is setting up the sequel where the father will play a more important role beyond being Nick’s past tormenter. Nevertheless, his turnabout defied what I know about human nature. Either the author should have hinted all along that he wasn’t such a bad guy or she should have left him out of the ending.
These nits represent minutia. They didn’t distract from an enjoyable and exciting story about a different culture and the fight against terrorism. The author set out on a journey to entertain and admirably succeeded. She gets an A+. Young adults and young-at-heart adults, all looking for a thrill ride will not be disappointed. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
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