Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen book coverGenre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Published: 2017
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Reviewer:  David L. Felts

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In Nyxia, by Scott Reintgen, we’re introduced to Emmet Atwater and nine other teens, all candidates selected by the corporation Babel. In secret and using technology most of the world doesn’t even know exists, Babel has established a beachhead on the planet Eden, which contains a substance Babel covets called Nyxia.

Eden, however, is already populated by a humanoid species who take a dislike to humans, a dislike that only runs to adults. Their access to Nyxia also makes them incredibly powerful, too powerful for Babel to win in a conflict.

But the natives have a soft spot for kids. Babel’s solution is to take ten teenagers and pit them against each other in competition during the journey to Eden to determine who is the most capable, and then send the top eight down to the surface to mine the Nyxia. In return, those eight will earn financial rewards that will enable them to provide for themselves and anyone else they care about in complete luxury for the rest of their lives.

While all of this sounds like science fiction, the substance nyxia makes it more of a science fantasy. Nyxia can be manipulated by thought and reshaped into anything the thinker can imagine–supposing he or she has enough power and control to make it. Anything, that is, except things of an organic nature. And, sometimes, the nyxia seems to have a mind of its own…. and that’s not the only secret Babel is keeping.

Reintgen hits all the requisite teen fiction tropes, but comes at them from enough of an angle that he ends up with a fresh and fun story that often kept me going past my admittedly early bed time.

Let’s take a look at the required elements of young adult fiction, bearing in mind that Reintgen has already substituted a male as the lead character, an immediate violation of the established rules. An auspicious start!

Rules for a best selling Young Adult book:

  1. Normal teenage girl who turns out to be anything but

Emmet is a normal teenage boy, who–guess what–turns out to be a pretty much a normal teenage boy! He has a strong center and a past and relationships that influence his choices. His personality remains consistent. A very “real” character.

2. Parents dead or missing

Emmet’s parents are alive and kicking, although his mother is ill. This ties into his justification for accepting Babel’s offer and one of the things that motivates him. In much of the YA fiction I’ve read, it seems as though being an orphan, or not knowing your parents, or, better yet, having your parents violently killed in front of you, is a requisite. I like how Reintgen weaved Emmet’s relationship and upbringing into the character’s motivations and decisions.

3. Socially inept but really a sweetie

Emmet is not socially inept, but he is a sweetie with a good heart. That doesn’t mean he can’t take care of what needs to be taken care of when he needs to. However, he has a moral center that’s revealed to be pretty unyielding, despite Babel’s attempts to break it.

4. Manifest destiny as THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DO IT

Nope, there are nine more who can probably do it, and Emmet needs to prove he is more capable than seven of them to earn his trip to Eden’s surface, along with the lifetime of ease Babel offers those who make it. But then again, we learn we can’t trust what Babel tells us….

5. Love interest (with green or blue eyes) who’s unattainable/wrong for the protagonist but with whom she feels an immediate attraction to despite them disliking each other when they first meet

Love and romance play a surprisingly small part in Nyxia. Reintgen does, however, devote a lot of attention to the relationships between the contestants. The result is characters who comes to life, each with their own motivations and quirks.

As to Emmet’s actual love interest, when it does happen, it is pretty immediate, and they do start off as adversaries. I’m afraid he only gets partial credit here. And I don’t remember if he mentioned the color of her eyes.

6. Lots of violence

Yes, Nyxia has lots of violence, but–mostly–it’s pretend violence. The contestants are pitted against each other, both individually and as teams. Although Babel makes an effort to keep the violence in these competitions virtual, there’s still a chance for the characters to get hurt. I thought this was clever way to present physical conflict while at the same time not turning the contestant into psychopathic killers. The outcomes matter, and there’s a risk of characters getting hurt, but I like the way Reintgen handles this.

7. Absolutely, positively no activities that might even accidentally be construed to be of a sexual nature

Emmet and one of the other contestants share intimacy in violation of this rule. This is probably my only quibble, since it their attraction and intimacy seem to develop rather suddenly. But maybe I’m misremembering the impulsiveness of youth? In any case, the build up didn’t seem to justify the pay out. I would have liked to see a more languorous accumulation of shared experience and feelings.

8. Evil, all powerful corporation

Reintgen does a fantastic job of giving us corporate cronies who don’t come across as cookie-cutter villains. In fact, they don’t seem much like villains at all, which are, of course the best villains you can have. Just when you think you can trust what they are telling you…. Babel stands to make trillions with Nyxia, it needs kids to mine it, and they don’t seem to much care what they have to do to get these kids ready.

The end result is a book that hits all the buttons, but in a novel and refreshing way that delivers a cut-above teen-jep book. I look forward to reading the next in the series, which is about the highest praise I can give.

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