A Dangerous Year CoverThis was one of those books that, when offered an advance copy for a review, I read the blurb and thought ‘interesting’, and the book lived to the hype.

The publication has been pushed back repeatedly, and that makes adding this to Amazon in a timely fashion difficult. Sad, as this is a great late-YA / New Adult beach-type book. It isn’t too in depth, too heavy, or too cliff-hanger-centric. What this book is is good – at every level.

The main character, as the cover shows, is one Riley Collins, daughter of the widower American Ambassador to Pakistan, who was raised as much by his bodyguard as him (not neglect, reality of a career diplomat) to be independent, confident, and at home in some fairly hostile places. I usually look at ‘teen girl who is also a perfectlybeautifulninjaassassinhackerrockstarcommando’ with a skeptical eye, then put them back on the real or digital store shelf, and move on. This one seemed to not go there – I mean it does, but not so baldly, based on the blurb. Aside to publishers: better blurbs = better sales, really. Anyway, that is explained well in the background, and kept both fairly realistic and limited by some obvious bounds. Guns and fighting, yes. Hacking and ninja stuff, no. Cultures and languages, yes. Mistress of disguise and superspy, no.

So, we have Riley, in Pakistan, being a fairly stereotypical American conservative / libertarian (that is, not allowing the fallacy of cultural relativism to stop her from doing the right thing), which leads to her having a minor death mark on her head. Enter the State Department, who needs her to protect the daughter of a Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / Elon Musk sort of computer genius. Seems he developed a new system that allows any security anywhere to be broken. And his daughter has been the subject of threats in order to make him send the software to the bad guys.

Of course, the spoiled rich girl is at the most exclusive prep / boarding school ever, and our heroine (with little formal schooling, and no interest in prep stuff) has to fit in, and become friends. This is a lot of the conflict setup from ‘Mean Girls’, and the book is fully aware of this – referring to the movie in a nice bit of sly breakage of the 4th wall. The reader is thus brought into the reality where the author is fully aware that the reader is thinking ‘Mean Girls’, and the obvious complaint is sidestepped.

From here, we get some obvious awkward fish-out-of-water scenes, insta-crushes, evil girls, and evil boys. The usual.  This is, I suspect, stock YA fare, and it is handled well. The characters are a bit less fleshed out that I tend to like, but that’s me. They are far from cardboard, and only blend when they need to – that is, when they blend to the main character, they do to me as well. I like that, as there are people in the real world that blend into one person to me, so I completely get how that happens.

As one expects, the obvious isn’t, and the actual enemy is almost a total blindside – I think I saw it a few pages early, but that may be me comforting myself. Other aspects of the villain’s story come totally out of nowhere – and those hit perfectly. This really is very well done, and does manage to both humanize the characters that could easily have come from Central Casting, and keep the surprises a surprise.

Complaints…huh. Honestly, the fairly reckless actions early on seem off – the child of a career diplomat, born and always living on assignment, probably would not act that way. But then again, they might. It is tricky to call. The obvious one of not sending an untrained, totally unprepared, novice onto an incredibly high stakes assignment was the freebie (that is a sci-fi thing – in sci-fi the tradition was that you got one ‘freebie’ magical technology – like hyperdrives – that you didn’t need to explain or justify with any science). It is not realistic, but is the driver for the plot, so you let it go.

This should be on most teen’s reading lists. There is some violence and adult themes, which is expected. But the message is overpowering – do the right thing, and trust your friends to be there.

This looks to be a series, and I am already wanting the next one!

  • A Dangerous Year