Saturday 9 October 2010

Review: Alien Storm by A.G. Taylor

A freak virus released by a meteorite storm has given Sarah, Robert and their friends amazing superpowers. But such powers are both a blessing and a curse…

Deadly meteorites are heading to earth but mysterious Russian billionaire Nikolai Makarov seems gleeful. What is his secret and can the group of friends thwart his master plan?

Meteorite Strike by A.G. Taylor was one of the first books that I was sent by a publisher, about a month after I started writing this blog. I loved that book and felt that it elevated Mr Taylor straight into the list of must-read authors for boys. I have lost count of the number of times I have recommended this book to boys at school, every one of whom has come back wanting more. Of course, I have then had to carefully break the news that the sequel was not out yet. Those days will fortunately soon be gone as Alien Storm, the sequel to Meteorite Strike, is due to be published at the end of November. I consider myself very fortunate to have been sent a proof of Alien Storm, and my thanks go out to the generous people at Usborne.

In case you have not yet discovered Meteorite Strike (shame on you), that book told the story of a meteor landing in the Australian outback, causing the majority of the local population to fall into a coma-like sleep, whilst certain young individuals found themselves developing what can only be described as superpowers. Naturally, there are always going to be other individuals who want to exploit the unusual, and main characters Sarah and Robert found themselves up against the ruthless leader of HIDRA. The publishers liken the story to X-men meets Heroes, and that's as good an analogy as any other.

Without giving too much away, the story has now moved on and Sarah, Robert and their small group of superhuman friends are eking out a pretty miserable existence in a run down apartment block in Melbourne, whilst they make preparations to flee the country to somewhere far away where they can feel safe. However, there are other youngsters with powers causing problems throughout the country and so keeping a very low profile is paramount if they are to stay off the radars of HIDRA and the evil Major Bright. They aren't helped a great deal by the appearance in their lives of Alex, a boy who has his own power, that of invisibility. Alex has been receiving mysterious communications from the equally mysterious Nikolai Makarov, a Russian billionaire who claims he can keep Alex and the other safe. Needless to say the young group soon find themselves fleeing for their lives (again), but is it a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?

Just as I was settling in to read what I thought was another high-octane superhero action story from A.G Taylor the story takes a very sudden turn, and becomes far more (classical) science fiction orientated than its predecessor. There is a shower of deadly meteoroids heading for Earth, seemingly guided by something or someone and it is down to our young heroes to prevent a global catastrophe. Surely a challenge such as this is too huge for a bunch of kids who are still only just coming to terms with their relatively new powers? This premise makes the an even more exciting read than the author delivered with Meteorite Strike, and takes the reader on a nerve wracking ride filled with exciting action sequences and more moments of nail-biting tension that you will find in many a Hollywood action film.

As with every sequel to a fantastic debut book, as a reader I was wondering whether the author would be able to maintain the quality and keep me interested and loving the story as much as I did the first. These fears were laid to rest very quickly; the first book was very much about introducing the characters and the plot was the driving force. Whilst the plot is still a key element to my enjoyment of Alien Storm, it was the character development in this book that had me hooked. These are young people, with no adults to guide them either in life or in the means of handling strange new powers, and so we start to see how they handle this on their own. Who emerges as a natural leader? Who feels jealous at this? Who is happy to work as part of a team and who wants to do things their own way? Who will be loyal to their friends when all seems lost, and who will be tempted into the arms of the enemy? A.G. Taylor manages all of this with seemingly consummate ease, and delivers a group of well-formed and realistic characters that young readers will be able to associate with, and will root for until the very last page of the book.

Another aspect I liked about this book was the way the author takes his characters to a very different location from the one they experienced in the first book. Gone is the burning, dry heat of the Australian outback and instead our heroes find themselves in the frozen wastelands of Chutotka, Siberia. As well as the shift in location he also keeps the story fresh by changing the foes that Sarah and her friends find themselves up against - in the first book their battles were largely against human aggressors, in Alien Storm it is vicious robot dogs (as wonderfully pictured on the stunning book cover above). At no point as a reader are you left with a feeling of 'more of the same', which can be the case with less accomplished writers. 

As he did with its predecessor, the author ends Alien Storm in a nice tidy manner, with the main plot of the book coming to a satisfactory end, yet leaving us a nice mouthwatering cliffhanger as far as the main story arc is concerned. I can only guess as to when the next instalment will be released, and my guess would be probably sometime in late 2011 - if I get any more information rest assured I will share it with you here. Alien Storm is perfect for readers in the 10+ age category, and is scheduled to be released on 26th November but I would be very surprised if it didn't start to appear on book shop shelves before then.

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