Magisterium, by Jeff Hirsch (Scholastic, October 1, younger YA, 2012)--a good one for the younger YA reader who enjoys sci-fi and magic mixed together to form a high-stakes thriller.
It's the year 2153; over a hundred years have passed since the cataclysmic formation of the Rift divided Earth into two distinct parts. On one side, a girl named Glenn has grown up in a high tech world, living at the edge of the Rift, with no desire to explore its forbidding, and forbidden, wastes. But when a government raid on her father's workshop ends up with her father imprisoned and no where else to run, Glenn, along with her friend Kevin, flees across the border.
There she finds a world of magic--a place where she is taken under the protectin of a sentient feline warrior, known as Aamon, a place where those with Affinity can feel the magic, and bend it to their own ends. And no one can control the Affinity more powerfully than the sinister figure known as the Magistra, who rules with an iron hand.
Glenn is shielded from the force of the Affinity by the bracelet her father had made, a marvel of magic and technology that is the reason for the government's all to fierce interest in her family. But Kevin becomes drawn into the world across the rift, sharing his memories with a boy cruelly executed by the Magistra. And Aamon (Glenn's own cat) was the one responsible for bringing her to power.
As the secrets of this new and blood-soaked land gradually reveal themselves, Glenn is forced to determine where her loyalties lie...and what will happen to her when she takes the bracelet off, and all the wild magic of the Affinity threatens to consume her, just as it did the Magistra. And the arrival of a high tech attacking the people of the Magisterium forces Glenn to decide if she will use her power...or watch people die.
It was a gripping and interesting story, with revelation following on revelation, danger following danger. It's one I'd recommend to the younger YA reader looking for a high-stakes science ficitony/fantasy adventure, especially the reader who isn't drawn to stereotypical other-world-with-magic fantasy--there are strange creatures here, to be sure, but no unicorns or wands! I say younger YA because Glenn presents as being young--she's resisting Kevin's romantic nudgings in a very prickly adolescent not wanting things to change way, her plot arc is still focused on family, as opposed to her own life, and she has not become the fully "strong teen protagonist" type that I be she'll be in later books. And this isn't a criticism--just an aspect of the book that might make it appeal more to a 12 year old than to a 17 year old.
The story is told in tight third person perspective--we see what Glenn sees, and understand what she does. Since she's in a situation that is as confusing as all get out, at times I myself was confused, especially with regard to minor characters. The fast progression from one dangerous encounter to the next allowed little time to fall back and regroup, which was somewhat off-putting to me personally. I like to spend peaceful time with characters, getting to know and care about them when they aren't in danger/disagreeing vehemently with each other/totally self-absorbed, and I get muddled if too much World Building Extravaganza is heaped on top of itself.
However, the tight concentration on Glenn's perspective allows the emotional tension of her situation to come through with vivid clarity, adding intensity to the story. The relationship between prickly Glenn, desperate for order and things that makes sense, and Kevin, busily introducing the disrupting force of romance into her life, and a fine character in his own right, is very nicely done indeed.
Conclusion: I found it an absorbing read, not quite to my own personal taste, but one that I would happily offer to a seventh or eighth grade girl who wants a good speculative fiction adventure (especially the girl who is really fond of her cat. The Girl-Beloved cat relationship is important here). For those concerned about such things, there's quite a bit of violence, but no sex--just one passionate kiss (with Kevin, not with the cat, just in case anyone was confused).
Other reviews: The Book Smugglers, The Cozy Armchair, and YA Litwit
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher