Teenager Nat is marked – a person born with a distinctive birthmark indicating they possess one of several extraordinary powers, generally feared by the populace and shot on discovery by the authorities. Seemingly at the heart of her unpredictable and as yet unknown power is a monstrous voice Nat hears in her mind, which guides her to escaping a shady governmental facility and hiding out in the city of New Vegas.
The city is one of a handful remaining after a flood and subsequent ice-age has choked the polluted planet Earth and forced most humans into a harsh poverty-line existence, but also caused ethereal, magical species to immerge into the world.
The voice compels Nat to get to ‘the Blue’ – a place many have searched for in vain, where the earth is warm and untainted, and which is rumoured to be gateway to the source of the magic into the world. To get there she must traverse the frozen wastelands and deadly seas of this ruined world, which are filled with eerie creatures and people with dark purpose, and learn to trust the handsome mercenary who seems to have his own agenda in helping her.
This is the first book in a new series, ‘Heart of Dread’, and it’s an unusual and intriguing blend of fantasy and sci-fi that is brimming with great imagination – but often to its deficit. There are so many elements for the road-trip story to incorporate that it often feels as if they don’t mesh that well, with uneven progression and gaps of explanation. There is plenty to engage the interest of keen readers of YA dystopia and fantasy, though – from oppressive governments and dragons, to romance and dark backstories – but it’s frustratingly hard to get swept away.