Saturday, 27 June 2015

Review: Crystal Force by Joe Ducie

On the run after escaping from what was supposed to be the world's most secure juvenile facility (and blowing it up in the process), Will Drake knows it's only a matter of time before the sinister Alliance catches up with him. But Drake is in need of an alliance of his own - knowing who to trust is becoming increasingly difficult, and after having been exposed to the highly unstable (and potentially deadly) Crystal-X whilst fleeing from the Rig, it looks like time might be running out for him all together. His arm has started to mutate into an impenetrable black crystal, and although it gives him a superhuman-like ability to fight, it might also be causing him to lose his mind. Surrounded by enemies and desperate for help, Drake and his escapee comrades are forced to form an uneasy partnership with a mysterious group who also claim to have been exposed to Crystal-X. They say they know how to use its powers for good - but can Drake really keep running forever? And who should he trust more - his supposed friends, or the voices in his head...?

Joe Ducie's The Rig was one of my favourite books of 2013, and it seems like the sequel has been a little too long coming, especially given the speed with which sequels seem to be published these days. I know through my conversations with the students at school that they hate to wait too long between books in a series, even to the point of losing interest in the series completely if they have to wait too long. With so many books being published for children and adults these days, having to remember a storyline for more than a year can be quite a big ask (it certainly is for this reader, at least). However, that moan aside, I can happily state that it was well worth the wait.

*** Warning: spoilers for The Rig ahead ***

The Rig was, in my opinion, very much an action story with some science fiction elements that became more apparent as the story progressed. Its sequel, Crystal Force, is much more of a science fiction story with a huge amount of action. Having escaped from the supposedly inescapable Rig, Will Drake and his friends find their troubles are only just beginning. Having come ashore in the wilds of Newfoundland, the friends are struggling to stay ahead of their hunters, whilst also struggling to keep warm, find food and just generally survive. Will is also having to come to terms with his strange new powers, gained when he was exposed to Crystal-X during his escape. Concerned that he may not be able to control his powers, its a worry that he keeps bottled away, afraid that his friends might desert him for being a dangerous freak. At the same time, he also understands that if he can control these new powers he might be their only chance for survival, as they flee the forces of the Alliance.

Trust is a key theme running through Crystal Force. Can Will trust his friends with his worries about his mutating body? Can the friends trust each other implicitly, or will one of them receive an offer from an enemy that is too good to refuse? Can they trust the Japanese contingent that appears on the scene, claiming they know all about Crystal-X and can train Will to control his powers? And what about Whitmore and the Alliance? Should the trio trust him and the promises he makes instead? And of course, in any story where trust is a major theme, there is bound to be an unhealthy dose of betrayal along the way, as characters cross and double-cross in order to reach their own selfish objectives.

Joe Ducie proved with The Rig that he could write a tense, action story and in Crystal Force he adds writing great science fiction to his resumé. It is easy to assume from the blurb that this is an X-Men style story, but whilst the emerging superpowers theme is an important aspect of the book, the story is more akin to one of alien possession. Of that I will say no more, for fear of creating spoilers, but it was certainly a direction I had not expected the story to take.

Crystal Force has more of a cliffhanger ending that its predecessor, which is not surprising given that I believe it to be the middle book in a trilogy. This isn't a problem for me (The Empire Strikes Back did, after all, have something of a cliffhanger ending and is almost universally recognised as being a bloody amazing film). However, it will become a problem for me if we have to wait another two years for the next book. Are you listening Joe Ducie and Hot Key Books? Don't keep your fans waiting this time please!


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