100-Character Breakdown: A debut with captivating, well-woven twists, interesting style, and a complex protagonist.
Genre: Sci-fi, young adult
Publisher: DAW Books (June 2015)
With her exciting debut Nova, Margaret Fortune provides an array of captivating, well-woven twists and a complex protagonist. Sixteen-year-old Lia Johansen is a refugee on the New Sol Space Station. She knows no one and barely knows herself — she has no memory of her past. All she knows is that she is a genetically engineered human bomb meant to destroy the space station, and she will detonate in 36 hours. But then the timer in her mind stops. She realizes she is a dud. Lia takes this as a second chance. She befriends Michael, who seems to know her, though she cannot remember how. As their relationship develops, the timer gradually begins to tick seconds away. This leaves her unsure if she wants to complete her mission or continue the life she is slowly beginning to build for herself. But if she can’t stop the clock, she’ll go Nova, destroying herself, those she is beginning to care for, and the entire space station.
One of the book’s highlights — besides the suspenseful plot and the strong, first-person point of view — is the style of the writing. Fortune’s writing is carefully constructed, enhances Lia’s personality, and makes Lia’s predicament seem all the more real. The use of the time on the clock adds perspective and heightens the tension. But Fortune also uses it to make an emotional impact. The clock isn’t a gimmick; it’s integrated organically into the story. The time is present often, giving readers a sense of Lia’s worry and enhancing the fast-paced narrative. It is a sci-fi novel with little action, so the clock is used as a device to push the story forward. At times, Lia’s identity can frustrate the reader. She has so little concept of who she is, and this can build a disconnect between her and the reader. In many ways, this is a novel about self-discovery for Lia, so while her lack of self-knowledge is frustrating, it does make sense. The space station itself could have used a bit more detailed world building, and there could have been more detail on the universe Nova takes place in. But there is still time for that, as it is the first in a five-book series. Kicking off a series full of potential, Fortune’s debut is compelling and satisfying.