Fans of John Connolly and his phenomenal Charlie Parker mystery series have already followed the author on several career detours: the supernatural short stories (Nocturnes), the comedic metaphysical young adult books (The Gates series) and the riff on classic fairy tales that became a classic all its own (The Book of Lost Things). But now with his partner Jennifer Ridyard, John Connolly has written his first science fiction novel for young readers. Conquest is over-flowing with originality, adventure and damn fine writing – fans and newcomers alike should be clamoring for it.
When Conquest begins, Earth has already been invaded by alien forces and society seems to have settled into a tense, but mostly stable, new symbiotic status quo. Most everyone is going about life as normal as possible, but there are fringe groups on both sides working in the shadows. There are human resistance fighters who continue to plot ways to overthrow the controlling aliens; just as there are Illyri who would prefer to strong-arm the humans into complete submission. Yet, it is one girl making a split-second decision that puts everything, and everyone, at risk.
Syl Hellais is the first alien born on Earth. As such, this put her in the precarious position of standing between the species. She is completely loyal to the Illyri, but she can see that what they have done to the humans may not be the most civilized of options. After two resistance fighters inadvertently save her life, she repays the favor by helping them break out of prison, thereby thwarting the spectacle of public execution which some fear (and some others hope) would result in all-out war between the two combating factions.
Connolly and Ridyard spend much of the first half of the novel setting up that scenario. But their slower pace in this section allows them to spend time acquainting the readers with this alien species – their history, their laws and social structure, and their end-goals. It is this extensive world-building that elevates Conquest above standard YA reading. Connolly and Ridyard do not underestimate their audience and as a result, the complexity of their creation will appeal to all readers, not just young adult science fiction aficionados.
In the second half of the novel, the adventure really kicks in as Syl and Paul Kerr (one of the two humans that she saved) must make a dangerous journey through the Highlands of Scotland to meet up with The Green Man. Because of the illegal escape, they are being hunted by the most notorious of the alien “police,” the Securitats. Readers will expect that their closeness on this journey may lead to romantic attraction, and while they would not be incorrect in this assumption, Connolly and Ridyard avoid the clichés common in such blossoming relationships and manage to make the trope feel fresh and exciting – just as one’s first stirrings of desire should.
John Connolly has always succeeded in writing strong and multifaceted female characters, but they have rarely ever taken center-stage in one of his novels. With the help of Jennifer Ridyard, this has all changed completely. In Conquest, there are five or more central female figures – some good and some bad – but each of whom is a believable and engaging creation. They have even created a powerful governing body consisting solely of women, called the Nairene Sisterhood, who seem poised to play a significant role in the second book in this series. Parents looking for positive reading material for their daughters (as well as their sons), could do far worse than Conquest.
Even if science fiction is not your first choice when it comes to reading, I encourage you to give Conquest a try. What John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard have created with this book is destined to gain widespread acclaim and become a hallmark of the genre. _____________________________________________________________________ Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.