This is a quick and enjoyable read, but not at all what I expected from the description. It's not action oriented, or particularly detailed in its sci-fi setup. It is, however, engaging and, in the end, unexpectedly sweet. Even, possibly (and I hope I'm not scaring any potential readers away with this description) inspirational. If I had to pinpoint a theme, it's about second chances and learning to appreciate what we have. If this sounds vague, well, it's a short story, so you just have to discover the plot by yourself:) I am hoping there will be more from this author involving these characters because there's definitely a lot more I' want to know and I'd love to spend more time with them.
To properly review this book, one has to keep in mind that "Second Civil War" is not an entirely new concept. However, several books that have attempted to describe either the process of the civil war or its aftermath have been less than stellar and sometimes downright awful. (Orson Scott Card's Empire is something I've been trying to erase from my mind so as to keep my respect for the writer of Ender's Game, while Neil Schusterman's Unwind would have taken a Nobel Prize for literature in the Least Likely Civil War Outcome category.) So on that level alone, the book succeeds brilliantly. It starts, literally, with a bang, and then slowly but surely takes us through the post-Second Civil War America. The nominal plot is a detective story, a murder investigation, but the concept allows us to travel through the now divergent societies of the prosperous libertarian West and the declining statist East. The book does not spend time on pure exposition, which surely would have been tempting to the author (and probably interesting to me as a political junkie), but instead lets the new world unfold as the story progresses. On the downside, the central story could have been better, the characters more developed, the motivations clearer especially towards the end. It's almost a shame to go into a world as intriguing as this, then spend most of the time on a middling detective story. In fairness, the book probably only deserves 3 stars; however, as THE best attempt I've seen at this particular theme, I'm upping the rating in hopes to give the work more publicity and the author more encouragement. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan of near-future speculative fiction, and certainly to my libertarian-inclined friends.
The author described this book as Atlas Shrugged meets Harry Potter. It's SORT OF correct, but it's more Nathaniel Branden's Psychology of Self-Esteem than Atlas Shrugged. Every chapter has a long discussion of an teen's issue (usually involving low self esteem caused by faulty worldview) AND an exciting magical battle. It does require a measure of patience and good attention span, so I'm not sure how appealing it would be to an average teen (my son has already read Atlas Shrugged, so he found this one entertaining in spite of its structure). Give it a try and see for yourself.
I got this book for my 10 YO son. He happens to be a very picky reader, but he loved this story. For my son, the best part was focusing on the main character's feelings, overcoming fears towards dogs and developing a relationship with his pet. (Just kidding, of course. The best part was- spoiler warning-the dog eating the homework!) My son also appreciated the sense of humor and the realism of the characters. As an adult, I also liked the realism of the family described in the book. It doesn't have the "modern" ironic view of the family, nor is the family unrealistically perfect. (Most recent kids' books I've encountered swing between these two extremes). Here, from the first page, I was thinking, "This could be one of my kids," or "That's what I would say as a mom in this situation." The story itself is simple, but engaging and fun, for both kids and adults. If you need something quick for your elementary or middle schooler to read, or for a break from the standard wizard/dystopia/romance stuff that populates juvenile literature nowadays, give this book a try.