The Awakening
Kelley Armstrong

Hardcover, 368 pages, $17.99
Review by Sheila Merritt

Reviewing the second novel in a series, without having read the first, is rather like cutting in during a dance. The music has started, there’s an engagement between the dancers, and then the interloper must pick up the steps and movement where they were interrupted. In the case of the young adult novel, The Awakening, it’s not hard to get into the rhythm and flow of the story line. A reading of the first book in the Darkest Powers series, The Summoning, is not a prerequisite. There is recapitulation of what occurred in the earlier work, and because this is a rather formulaic young adult novel, it is easy just to go with the flow and follow along.

The main character, fifteen year old Chloe Saunders, possesses pubescent problems beyond the norm. She is a novice necromancer; has the ability to raise the spirits of the dead. In the company of other “supernaturals” she finds that they have been part of an experiment which modified their genes. Chloe, and some other teenagers who have been used in this unholy testing, are on the run from The Edison Group. That organization not only engaged in genetic tampering; it also murdered some of its young subjects who didn’t perform to standards. Chloe’s name is on the expendable list, so she flees with a moody (is there any other kind?) werewolf, his sorcerer brother, and a bitchy/witchy girl.

Adolescent anxieties and attractions ensue during the flight from the despicable elders, who also possess some degree of supernatural powers. This is a generation gap of huge proportions.

Chloe is an arresting character; self aware, and fond of using movie images to convey a thought: “In a good drama, the protagonist never takes the straight line to the prize. She must set out, hit an obstacle, detour around it, hit another, take a longer detour, another obstacle, another detour … Only when she had built up the strength of character to deserve the prize does she finally succeed.”

The teens on the lam are intellectually accessible, and it is easy to care about what will happen to them in the next volume. This second book is a cliffhanger, so it also has a built in lure to the third novel. Chloe’s standoff with some zombie bats is outstanding in its “ick” factor, and prompts her to have to have “a Disneyfied dream of prancing through the forest, leading a singing trail of undead critters.”

In The Awakening, Kelley Armstrong takes her experience as a writer of adult horror fiction and tailors it to the burgeoning young adult market. She does a good job with the difficulties inherent in a second novel in a series: There is no sense of reader “whiplash” in having to go the first book for reference. Wisely, she’s also insured that this story will prompt the reading of the next installment; by not providing a resolution in this book.

The Awakening can please the Twilight romance crowd, and some of the Harry Potter fans, in its look at growing up with arcane abilities.

Chloe may be too good to be true, but that’s part of the escapist, albeit predictable, charm.

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