First line: "In the beginning was the wormhole."
In my continued quest to cover crime genre books for younger readers as well as adults, I picked up the newest U.S. publication from John Connolly and his partner, Jennifer Ridyard. Not only did I find a book that is great for older young adults, but I was transported (possibly through the wormhole?) back to my own youth, the last time I enjoyed a sci-fi adventure like this. I let go of reality's gravitational pull and entered the world of Conquest, the first book in the Chronicles of the Invaders series.
Conquest opens on a very different Earth than our own. It has been invaded and is now controlled by an advanced life form not unlike humans, the Illyri. Across the planet a human organization known as The Resistance is battling to take back control of Earth.
Meanwhile, within the ranks of the Illyri, there is unrest. The species is divided into the Military and the Diplomatic Corps who are constantly battling each other for the upper hand.
Syl Hellais is the first Illyri born on Earth. She's also the daughter of Governor Andrus, the Illyri Military leader on Earth. When Syl and her friend Ani slip out of the castle in disguise on Syl's 16th birthday, they have no idea that it's a turning point in both of their lives. The girls encounter two human brothers, Paul and Steven, just before a bomb explodes on the Royal Mile. The brothers help the girls escape the scene unharmed and both Syl and Ani believe the encounter to be the end of their connection to the human boys.
But fate had other plans. Paul and Steven are both members of The Resistance. So they are prime targets to be framed for the bombing when they witness secret activity conducted by the Illyri Diplomatic Corps. The brothers are hauled in by the Securitat--the law enforcement group within the Diplomatic Corps--and sentenced to hang by Grand Consul Gradus, who has conveniently arrived on Earth to inform Governor Andrus of the Illyri President's death. This is essentially the end of Andrus' leadership and he finds himself powerless to undo the death sentence on the two boys.
Since Andrus is powerless to help Paul and Steven, Syl and Ani agree they will have to do it. And thus begins their life-altering odyssey.
While Conquest technically takes place on the same planet we inhabit, Connolly and Ridyard still managed to build an entirely new world in which to tell their story. The blending of Earth's geography and history with fictional technology, species, and governance gives the book a mystical element, almost a shift in dimension.
And through the enjoyment of this fantastical world come strong universal themes dealing with differences, conflict and ethics.
The differences in species can easily be translated to any kind of difference: race, religion, ethnicity. The lack of understanding and the unwillingness to try is the greatest enemy.
The conflict occurring between species and within species is symbolic of every range of human conflict from wars between nations to spats between individuals. The repeated message of taking the high road and doing the right thing instead of the easy thing reverberates through levels of the plot.
Technology plays a large role in the novel, so the ethical use also comes into play. As does the ethics of power and hierarchy.
Finally, a big part of Conquest is the idea of identity and one's true self.
Conquest is an exciting, action-packed adventure. The plot, populated with intensely memorable characters--both good and bad--will keep readers engaged for its well over 400 pages. The disappointment of the end will be mollified by the fact this is only Book 1 in the series; there is more to come. The added bonus is the rich and multiple layers of the story as well as the universal relevance of its themes.
If you have an older young adult around, I do recommend Conquest, quite highly. But I also recommend that if you're going to get them a copy, buy it early so you can read it yourself first...or buy your own copy as well. This is most definitely a book that can be enjoyed by all.
Conquest is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781476757124) from Emily Bestler/Atria Books and as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781442369078) narrated by Nicola Barber from Simon & Schuster Audio. Below is an audio excerpt for your listening pleasure!