on August 13, 2012
As a mother who screens everything her 13-year-old daughter reads, I usually review Book 1 of any series after having read all the available books in the series, while briefly mentioning how I feel about the entire series of books, just to keep things organized. It's taking quite a while for us to get a hold of the first book of Eric Nylund's new series "The Resistors" for middle-schoolers, though, so I thought I'd go ahead and submit this, because I know we're going to really enjoy Book 1 as well, and "The Sterling Squadron" is the latest book in the series.
Without having read "The Resistors", I was reminded of the movie "Starship Troopers" when I first picked up "The Sterling Squadron" actually - but the twist that reveals itself three-quarter-way through the book makes this a fairly original tale. It's a great way for said daughter (who hates bugs) to get a sense of what "Starship Troopers" is like, actually, before she gets to watch the movies herself (sadly, they are all rated "R.") In fact, I'm quite willing to bet that, if there's to be yet another sequel to the movie franchise, they're likely to get some ideas from "The Resistors"!
I totally enjoyed "The Sterling Squadron" even though science fiction in written form is not really my thing. Time permitting after we've read "The Resistors", we may take a look at more of Eric Nylund's work in his "Halo" series as well. Said daughter's review follows:
" 'Sterling Squadron' by Eric Nylund was an awesome, futuristic book.
"12-year-old Ethan Blackwood, the only neighborhood kid to have *ever* been made a Resister, has been called many things -
"Doesn't know how to lose
"Knows how to Strategize
"Then he discovers that aliens called the Ch'zar are mind-controlling all adults and teenagers, and kidnapping kids, especially all the kids in Sterling School. Obviously, he, with his two friends and one frenemy, must go save the kids. The problem is, will the kids believe them? Or will they already have been brainwashed by the Ch'zar?
"My favorite character would have to be Ethan - he must be either the dumbest genius in the book, or the smartest idiot! I also liked how he wasn't like other heroes in other books, going off to do everything himself. Instead, Ethan, even though he really, really, REALLY didn't want to, let his friends take risks and contribute to the mission. I also liked Emma, because she was really funny and brave. I would have picked a ladybug as well!
"My favorite part would have to be when Ethan, in order for him and his friends to escape Sterling School, got all the kids to start fighting the teachers. That was really funny and clever. :-)
"I would have to give the book five stars: two stars for the plot, two stars for the characters, and one star for the fact that there's a sequel!! :-)"
on September 19, 2012
Let's get this out of the way: I'm very biased in Eric Nylund's favor. I find his works solidly-written, exciting, and of the highest caliber. That being said, I wasn't too excited about his first Resisters novel. I found it all right; it's not that it was lacking in quality, or maybe it was because I wasn't part of the target audience (this is a young adult book; I'm 21), I just thought he'd written MUCH BETTER novels than that. So, does the Resisters 2: Sterling Squad continue the trend of being just all right? Or does it build up on its predecessors foundations? Most importantly, does it make itself accessible to the older audience (which I'm sure makes up most of Mr. Nylund's fanbase) such as myself?
Sterling Squad starts off at a much faster pace than the previous one. Ethan Blackwood, the main character from the previous novel, is now a part of the Resistance. All should be well and swell, right? Not really; for one, Ethan is having a rough time fitting in. The Resistance's leader doesn't want to give him flight status, and one of his friends from the first novel, Madison, agrees with the decision. Worse, still, Ethan has a somewhat conflictive relationship with the Resistance's top ace. Things get really serious though, when Ethan has a small altercation with him, which lands not just the two of them, but a few other pilots in serious trouble. Now, just to raise the stakes a bit more, he soon finds out that the alien bad guys, the Ch'zar, are growing in number and power, and the Resistance will soon be overwhelmed unless they can find more pilots. And you thought getting a prom date was stressful.
Without spoiling anything else, I will say Ethan has got to be one of the most formidable young adult characters I've read about. Nylund's stories (with a few exceptions) involve characters thrust into situations they are very unprepared for, like Roland discovering magic and his dual-plane existence in Pawn's Dream, or Eliot and Fiona Post coming to terms with their demonic-immortal heritage in Mortal Coils and All That Lives Must Die, and he's mastered that 'genre' (if that word can be applied here) of storytelling pretty damn well. Ethan is always in trouble, but not for the sake of being in trouble; even the less believable parts make perfect sense within the context, and that's something I really enjoyed about the book. The danger is believable, and the way he handles it is not just believable, it's actually quite clever.
My one beef though is how flat some of the characters can be. There's a relationship between them, it's there, and it's got the potential to be absolutely brilliant, but I think the focus is on the story more than the characters. This approach isn't a full flaw, and it doesn't really detract from the story as a whole. But I was really hoping Madison and Ethan's relationship would be explored more deeply. Instead, we have a few new kids that seem to take the limelight from them, putting even Felix in the sidelines (much to my dismay). Their friendships are still there, but I don't feel it was as developed as it was in the first book; hell, after the exciting climax (no sarcasm; it actually was exciting), their friendship kind of takes a back seat. Though we can see Ethan's thoughts about how he's afraid to lose his old friends, new friends, among others; it's just not enough. Maybe I'm asking too much; this is a kid's novel after all (Ages 10 and up), but I do think that Nylund could've done something better in that area; his friendship/love triangles have always been extremely well-written and surprising (see Signals, A Game of Universe, and/or Pawn's Dream for more details), and I was hoping something similar. But maybe he's waiting for #3: Titan Base, which I've already preordered.
Now to sum up my review in bullet points:
-Quick-paced, fun, and satisfying; there's no dull moments.
-Believable main character, believable situations, great character development. Admittedly, there's no way any of us would've been flying giant insect fighters during our preteen years (and if you have, let me know if they're hiring adults). But I do think that had we done that, we could in some way relate to Ethan and co.
-Strong cliffhanger. Yes, there's a cliffhanger, but it's a good one. It's not like Halo 2/Gears of War's cliffhanger where we're expecting at least an epilogue or an awards ceremony or something; you get closure and you have the opening for a new installment. Not a lot of people can do something like that this well, and Nylund deserves credit for it.
-No typos, fluid writing. Have you ever read paragraphs in books that make you forget what you're reading? Well, Sterling Squad doesn't do that (Nylund *rarely, if ever,* does that). I don't remember finding any typos at all in the novel (and I'm a bit of a grammar freak), and that really helps the overall enjoyment.
-Wasted opportunities. I think Ethan's relationship with Madison, as well as his new allies, could've been better explained. I mean, Nylund did a good job in the Resisters 1; the friendships felt very real. Here, they seem tacked on, almost like an afterthought. Don't get me wrong; I don't think they're poorly executed. I just don't think he took full advantage of them, especially the one between Ethan and Madison.
Final thoughts: If you've ever read anything by Nylund, you'll know his works are often of great quality. Resisters 2 meets it, and in some ways surpasses it. Though it has its flaws, I don't think they can ruin a person's experience with it. If you're completely new to Nylund, you might find something to enjoy here too; the story, the characters, the setting; it's all very strong, and you'll very likely want to stick around for the rest of his career. Give Nylund a shot; he won't disappoint you. Hell, maybe he'll want to make you write your own stories, like he did with me.
4.5/5. Fanboy mode off.