These two books by Gena Showalter are from the young adult half of her Alien Huntress series. In this series the focus is on strong women who live in a futuristic society where aliens live amongst us. To protect themselves from some of the more dangerous aliens, humans have A.I.R – Alien Investigation and Renewal agency, which these books revolve around. The list of books so far:
- Awaken Me Darkly
- Enslave Me Sweetly
- Red Handed
- Black Listed
I read Awaken Me Darkly first, early this year. This centered around A.I.R. agent Mia and on Arcadians – aliens tha sound like the twins from The Matrix. I liked the action and the aliens but the story lost steam in the second half and the plot became much less tight. Basically I liked the world but it didn't end up a keeper.
Red Handed and Blacklisted are in the same world except the protagonists are teenagers. The reader also gets to learn about other alien species that weren't discussed in detail in Awaken me Darkly. Also, these books can be read in any order without missing anything. Characters from past books make appearances but they are not central to the story.
In Red Handed, Phoenix is a recovering drug adult trying to redeem herself in her mother's eyes. She just got back from rehab for an addiction to Onadyn – a drug that some aliens need to survive but deprives humans of oxygen. Phoenix tries to stay away from her friends that still use but misses the companionship, so she ends up at a party in the woods where many kids are high. Aliens attack the party expecting little resistance but Phoenix is sober and fights back with the help of a mysterious boy she meets at the party. Unfortunately for Phoenix, when she gets home her mother only thinks it's more drugs. The people who brought Phoenix home suggest a boot camp to straighten her out, and Phoenix's mom is only too ready to let her go. The twist is that this boot camp isn't a rehabilitation center. It is a training center for A.I.R., the mysterious boy is an A.I.R agent, and Phoenix has just been recruited. The rest of the story deals with Pheonix's training, making friends in A.I.R and overcoming the stigma of being an addict. I enjoyed reading about Phoenix's struggles to prove that she has moved past her addiction and to become more than an ex-junkie. The portrayal of the bitterness from others, especially her mother, for what Phoenix put them through and Phoenix's subsequent shame added depth to the story. This ended up being my favorite book in this series.
Blacklisted centers around an ordinary girl named Camille with a huge crush on Erik, who goes to her high school. She and her best friend sneak into a nightclub that they heard he was going to be. Erik isn't happy to see her because he's involved with drugs, and he needs to lose the tail of A.I.R. agents watching him, so he gives her an empty napkin hoping this would both make her stop following him and distract the A.I.R. agents. Unfortunately Camille proves to be more resourceful than he expected and follows him into a high security area of the club, leading A.I.R. to believe she's involved in his shady dealings. A.I.R. is even more unhappy with Erik than the usual drug-dealer because he used to be an A.I.R. agent himself. Erik has a reason for why he's doing what he does, and he doesn't want to involve an innocent like Camille, but her actions means A.I.R is now looking for both of them. This was an interesting story because it looked at the situation from a different angle – where A.I.R. and laws that condemn the guilty can also condemn the innocent at the same time. In this story the actions of A.I.R. were bullheaded from this point of view. An interesting point and written nicely, but I preferred Red Handed. I think my main issue was that I found Camille to be silly from the beginning for doggedly pursuing Erik, and I just couldn't shake this view of her as foolish and impulsive. Even when she continued to trust and believe Erik, I thought – in real life this would be a parent's nightmare – their daughter romanticizing a drug dealer. In real life he wouldn't really be a good guy. This book also tied up really quickly and easily in the last few pages which I had real trouble with as well. I think I would have felt more satisfied with an ending that was less easy, if that makes sense.
Last point – both of these books had sexual situations which make them geared to a more mature teen. It's interesting how much more of this I see in books now than in my teens (10 years ago). I did notice that both girls were 18, the author is careful about that, and they in what seemed to be serious long term relationships.