- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Gallery Books (August 4, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1476738661
- ISBN-13: 978-1476738666
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 50 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Devil's Pocket Paperback – August 4, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Still trapped as part of the Phoenix Force, orphan-turned-super soldier Carl Freeman is sent to compete in grueling combat on the volcanic island known as Devil's Pocket. When he encounters former flame Octavia on the island, escape becomes more than just a hopeless dream in this sequel to Phoenix Island (Gallery, 2014). A strong selection for fans of gritty dystopian combat novels.
In Stoker-winner Dixon’s adrenaline-infused sequel to 2014’s Phoenix Island, 16-year-old Carl Freeman, now a highly trained fighter implanted with body-enhancing microchips, is part of a three-man team representing Phoenix Island, which is ruled by the tyrannical Stark, in the Funeral Games, “an annual underground tournament held at an undisclosed location and hosted by the Few, a small group of enormously wealthy elitists who happen to love blood sport.” Each participant will fight four bouts in four days. The winner of each weight class will receive $10 million. The games turn out to be on an island called Devil’s Pocket, where Carl, who’s posing as a loyal Stark supporter, is startled to encounter Margarita Carbajal, whom he knew as Octavia, his love interest, in the previous book. Octavia and Carl join forces in a desperate attempt to destroy Stark and the Few. A former Golden Gloves boxer, Dixon combines futuristic technical advances with graphic fight scenes for a satisfying adventure thriller. (Publishers Weekly)
"Devil’s Pocket is the best kind of sequel, one that doesn’t just repeat the original, but boldly strikes out for exciting new territory—and conquers it! This makes The Hunger Games look like Chutes & Ladders." (Peter Clines, bestselling author of The Fold and Ex-Heroes)
"This action-packed novel (with YA crossover appeal) combines adventure with extreme violence and concerns a young boxer sent to a very special youth boot camp.... When things come to a head, Carl finds that all of his suspicions about the island prove even worse than he thought in this crisply written and imaginative effort. Dixon’s page-turner will keep readers of all ages enthralled. A fast-paced, exciting novel with the promise of future installments." (Kirkus on Phoenix Island)
“100% great!” (Cemetery Dance Magazine on Phoenix Island)
"An unusual premise makes Dixon’s thriller debut a welcome series kickoff... the pacing and smooth prose will have suspense fans waiting for the next book, as well as the upcoming CBS adaptation, Intelligence." (Publishers Weekly on Phoenix Island)
"Filled with both menace and heart, Phoenix Island stands out in all the right ways." (New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr)
"Lord of the Flies meets Wolverine and Cool Hand Luke. A tribute to the indomitable human spirit that challenges the mob and chooses values over expediency." (F. Paul Wilson, New York Times bestselling creator of Repairman Jack)
“[Phoenix Island is] fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing – I could not put it down!”
(Lissa Price, international bestselling author of Starters)
“Mesmerizing and intense… [Dixon] bring[s] this story right off the pages and make[s] it a visual sensation that touches readers’ imaginations. All fans can hope for next is that these books will be added to a movie screen very, very soon.” (Suspense Magazine)
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Thankfully, this is not the case.
“Phoenix Island” kicked off the series with a brutal and suspenseful action/adventure story populated by fun and engaging characters. A troubled teen orphan, Carl Freeman’s quick temper, quicker fists, and overwhelming need to put bullies in their place (most often the emergency room…) gets him sent to Phoenix Island, a military-style youth rehabilitation camp off the Mexican coast that is actually a breeding ground for fanatical, technologically-enhanced super soldiers serving the commander, Stark, in a plot to rule the world.
“Devil’s Pocket” picks up with Carl serving as Stark’s prodigy on Phoenix Island (while secretly plotting to take the “Old Man” down). Between a microchip planted in his brain and nano-bots coursing through his bloodstream, Carl has superhuman strength, stamina, and mental abilities to help him achieve his overt and clandestine goals.
As a test, Stark sends Carl to the Funeral Games, the ultimate underground fight match with a purse of $10 million but also the strong potential to get beaten to death. The remotely-located but lavish Funeral Games are put on to entertain The Few, a small cadre of ultra-rich and powerful elitists who regard the champions traveling from around the world as playthings rather than people.
But Carl doesn’t care about the money, because if he wins then Stark will make him the official second-in-command at Phoenix Island, giving Carl the access he needs to destroy Stark and his operation. Accompanying Carl to the Funeral Games is his good friend Agbeko, an African heavyweight introduced to readers in “Phoenix Island”, as well as Tex, a pompous lightweight fighter with a vicious streak.
Carl’s well-laid plans, though, are complicated by a young trainer/girlfriend named Margarita that accompanies Julio, a Mexican fighter with almost as many secrets and ulterior motives as his girlfriend. Through her interventions, Carl’s ultimate mission grows larger and more difficult by orders of magnitude as he learns more about The Few and their deadly true purpose behind the Funeral Games.
“Devil’s Pocket” is a more complex book than “Phoenix Island” with an even larger cast of characters (some better developed than others) as well as more subterfuge nicely mixed in with tons of compelling action and fight scenes. The overall premise remains outlandish in scope but engaging nonetheless. That’s all part of the successful formula that has yielded great results for other YA book series including “The Hunger Games” and “The Maze Runner”.
In terms of story comparisons, I’ve seen several references to “Fight Club” in other discussions of “Devil’s Pocket”, which makes no sense to me. Aside from the existence of people punching each other, “Devil’s Pocket” has almost nothing in common with the heady existential and proletarian themes encompassed in “Fight Club” (book or movie). A more apt comparison could be made to the aesthetic of the 1988 martial arts film “Bloodsport” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. “Bloodsport” was completely hokey crowned with abysmal acting, but it was fun to watch and pitch-perfect for a male audience. Dixon’s “Devil’s Pocket” captures that same spirit of fun and martial-arts appeal while utilizing a more engaging plot and more interesting characters.
Like “Phoenix Island”, “Devil’s Pocket” aims pretty squarely at a male audience, but isn’t out of reach for female readers that seek fiction outside their demographic stereotypes. John Dixon’s own Golden Gloves boxing background plays a larger role in “Devil’s Pocket” with fight scene descriptions that are detailed but not overly technical.
Given the strength of both “Phoenix Island” and “Devil’s Pocket”, I suspect that this book series has the momentum for several more installments in its future. I’d also like to see Carl Freeman’s story moved to the big screen in much the same way as “The Hunger Games” and “The Maze Runner” (Note 2). Both books are already perfectly plotted for film adaptations.
In “Devil’s Pocket”, John Dixon provides an engrossing young-adult thriller with tons of promise for future books. I suspect that the chief complaint leveled at the author is that he’s not writing them fast enough.
NOTE 1: I'm told that Dixon's publishers are no longer marketing this series as YA. I can see that. Both “Phoenix Island” and “Devil's Pocket” have strong YA-to-adult crossover appeal. That said, “Devil's Pocket” still has many of the trappings of YA fiction.
NOTE 2: “Phoenix Island” loosely inspired the 2014 CBS TV drama “Intelligence” starring Josh Holloway for a single season. By ‘loosely inspired’, I’m saying that the TV series had sweet f*** all to do with Dixon’s novel. A more-faithful adaptation to feature film would be a better fit for this storyline.
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But I think what distinguishes the book are the poignant questions it poses without hammering you over the head with them. Questions such as: What defines strength in an individual? How much you are willing to sacrifice for what you believe ("He might surrender his life, but he wouldn’t sell his soul.") How much responsibility do individuals have for actions committed in the name of good vs evil -- does the ends justify the means when you are "parlaying with monsters" ("If you destroyed someone good for a cause you deemed good, what did that make you? An angel or a demon? Or did it make you something else, some unholy hybrid of the two? ") Finally it poses important questions about what it means to be human: "That was the thing. This wasn’t about punishing himself. He needed to feel the world, to understand. He had let the chip run off with him. Where did you go when you reached the end?"
All of that combined with tidbits related to Greek Mythology make Devil's Pocket an enjoyable way to take a few hours off and lose yourself in a completely different world with likable characters pursuing laudable goals.