London Eye: Pyr hardcover, October 2012, 228 pages, cover art by Steve Stone. London Eye is the first volume of Lebbon's Toxic City YA series. It reached the second round by defeating WorldSoul by Liz Williams in the first round.
In the first 25 pages of London Eye, we learned that two years earlier London was devastated by the release of a powerful biological agent, starting at the London Eye Ferris wheel. The government has quarantined the city, declaring this a terrorist attack, but Jack and Lucy-Anne and our other young characters believe otherwise. They meet Rosemary, a refugee from the city who has the power of healing, who confirms there are survivors in London who have developed other strange abilities. In the second 25 pages, our characters begin an underground trip into London. But to get there, they will have to battle their way past a pack of wild dogs.
Caliban's War: Orbit trade paperback, July 2012, 595 pages, cover art by Daniel Dociu. Caliban's War is the second volume of James S.A. Corey's series The Expanse, after the Hugo-nominated Leviathan Wakes. James S.A. Corey is the joint pseudonym of Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck. They reached the second round of the Battle of the Books with a win over Blood of the City by Robin D. Laws.
The opening pages of Caliban's War showed us a bizarre creature attacking Earth and Mars forces on Ganymede. Readers of Leviathan's Wake have little doubt that the creature is related to the alien intelligence seen in that book. In the second 25 pages, we get to know Bobbie Draper, a spunky soldier and the only survivor of the attack, who will soon be sent on a mission to Earth. Perhaps she will meet Chrisjen Avasarala, who holds the title of assistant to the undersecretary of executive administration on Earth, but it turns out she pretty much runs the whole damn government. The other viewpoint character in this section is Prax, a researcher who right now is just a dad, desperately trying to rescue his daughter from the mayhem on Ganymede.
The Battle: London Eye has a strong opening, with good young characters, some nice atmosphere through their underground passage, and a good action scene involving a fight with wild dogs. The dog scene at first feels like a preliminary, not very closely related to the main narrative, which we expect will involve people in London with strange superpowers. But on reflection, it effectively raises the issue whether our young characters have placed too much trust in Rosemary, the London refugee, for she should have warned them of this danger.
Meanwhile, through 50 pages, Caliban's War is taking names and kicking ass. Daniel Abraham is one of my favorite authors working today, and Ty Franck must be awfully good too, since I can't tell which of them has written which sections of the book. There is a good action scene early on, and here there is no question that the action pertains to what will become a focus of the narrative, the strange presence on Ganymede.
Abraham & Franck also do a masterful job of connecting readers to their characters quickly. Within a few pages, it becomes clear that Avasarala is a hard-ass leader, but also a very likeable person. The scene in which Bobbie Draper wakes from the attack on Ganymede is terrific. Here, for instance, she begins to gain consciousness, in a state of mind that causes us instanty to sympathize with her:
"She's conscious, but just barely," the voice said. It was a deep, mellow male voice. It seemed filled with warmth and concern. Bobbie hoped that the voice would keep talking until she fell back asleep.When Bobbie wakes up, we see that she's tough as nails. But she's in a situation she can't control, with people she can't trust. I really want to see what happens to her. I also want to see more of Holden, a favorite character from Leviathan Wakes, who has only had one scene through 50 pages, so there is a lot to look forward to here.
A second voice, female and sharp, replied, "Let her rest. Trying to bring her fully awake right now is dangerous."
The kind voice said, "I don't care if it kills her, Doctor. I need to speak to this soldier, and I need to do it now. So you give her whatever you need to give her to make that happen."
Bobbie smiled to herself, not parsing the words the nice voice said, just the kindly, warm tone. It was good to have someone like that to take care of you. She started to fall back asleep, the coming blackness a welcome friend.
I have no criticism of London Eye -- based on the first 50 pages I would recommend it, especially if a YA book with superpowered characters sounds appealing to you. Lebbon just ran into extremely tough opposition with Caliban's War.
THE WINNER: Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
Caliban's War moves into the semifinals, where it will take on either No Peace for the Damned by Megan Powell or Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald.
To see the whole bracket, click here.