First in the Avalon series
By Mindee Arnett
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
I love YA science fiction, and I love Joss Whedon's short-lived space western Firefly. Thus, I couldn't resist a YA sci-fi novel inspired by Firefly. AVALON definitely wears its inspiration on its sleeve, which is sometimes a detriment. (Every time there was a paraphrased Firefly quote I was jolted out of AVALON.)
At the same time quite a bit of the influence is good. There's the obvious, like a close-knit crew and young girls with mysterious powers. Then there's the less obvious tropes that Mindee Arnett cultivates, like being stranded in nothing and strange horrors at the edge of the universe. It's all stuff I like and was eager to read about.
Jeth is a young captain working for a crime lord known as Hammer Defoe. He and his crew take advantage of the fact that children aren't suspicious. When a new job comes up that can only be performed by the Avalon, Jeth takes advantage of the chance to win back his ship and his freedom. At the same time, he knows escaping Hammer won't be that easy, because Hammer has his own plans for Jeth's future.
Things quickly get complicated, and horrifying. Worst of all, Jeth's crew is stuck with three survivors who aren't supposed to exist and who are being hunted from all sides. It was fun to watch the characters come up with a plan, and then come up with another, and another, always adjusting to try to survive. Not every step is brilliant, but there's some good problem solving going on.
I did feel like quite a bit of AVALON was set up for future books in the series. There is plenty of action in the novel, but very little payoff for the secrets that are revealed. I'm more curious about what the protagonists will do with what they've learned than satisfied with what they did in the immediate aftermath. I also felt like Hammer's interest in Jeth was a bit overplayed. Some of his other crew members had more unique skills, for instance.
Still, AVALON is a promising start to a new series that should satisfy science fiction fans. I don't think it will be of much interest to readers outside of the genre, however.