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by Garth Nix
Like Garth Nix's excellent previous novel, Sabriel, Shade's Children is nominally a young adult book. It's an absorbing story, but it's unrelentingly grim, without Sabriel's charm.
Fifteen years ago, every human being over the age of fourteen vanished off the face of the planet. Children are now raised in Dorms, then carted off on their fourteenth birthday to be surgically transformed into the faceless machines that fight territorial battles for the mysterious Overlords. Some children have begun to develop strange talents, however. Those talents let a few escape the Dorms to live ferally until they are recaptured or killed. A very few are recruited by Shade, a computer-generated simulation of an adult, whose sole obsession is the destruction of the Overlords -- until a better obsession comes along.
Shade sends his children out in patrols to gather supplies and information about the Overlords. One of these patrols rescues Gold-eye, an escaped child whose precognition has let him barely elude the Overlords' creatures. His new friends are the telekinetic Ninde, the hulking Drum, and Ella, who can conjure small items, and who, at eighteen, is probably the oldest human being alive.
The tone is darker than the superhero story ingredients indicate. The children are constantly pursued by the Overlords' monsters and well aware that they will inevitably be killed or enslaved themselves.
Shade's Children is awfully bleak. On the other hand, it's also taut and quickly paced. If you're expecting another Sabriel, you'll be disappointed. (But take heart: Nix's next book will be set in the same world as Sabriel.) Fans of John Christopher's well-known Tripod trilogy shouldn't miss it.
-- Christina Schulman.
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