Dorchester Shomi, Aug 2008, $6.99
The Great Plague destroyed over forty percent of the human population. Besides the death toll, the consequential economic disaster wiped out more people as poverty became the norm. Finally, the pandemic changed life in other ways as some individuals born after the global calamity contained psi skills. Those who tested with strong levels were quickly taken from the dying planet to Offworld where they learned to use their gifts.
Kira Jordan was born after the plague with strong psi ability; she was transferred to Offworld and taught to use her skills. Kira can read people’s thoughts and see their souls if she touches them while flexing her mind. Seven years ago, someone murdered the then teen’s entire family; so when she awakens handcuffed in the dark she panics as she fears the darkness. Also locked up in the room is Rogan Ellis, who calmly explains they have been abducted to participate in The Countdown, a game of survival established to entertain wealthy subscribers who enjoy watching others die. If the pair separate by ninety feet, implants in their brains will explode. There are six levels of teaming or dying; Kira knows by flexing that her partner is a convicted serial killer who spent time in jail for crimes he did not commit, but he hides something from her that makes the already wary psychic distrust him.
This is an exciting science fiction thriller with obvious connections to the Richard Bachman novel and Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man in terms of the decadent affluent spectators cheering for death in a deadly game show. Michelle Maddox refreshes the concept through her key cast members as they are radically different from those in the movie. Kira is a terrific lead character whose thoughts especially fears enable the reader to understand her distrust of her game partner; whereas Rogan pretends to trust, but readers know better. Fans will wonder whether the team of Kira and Rogan will make it through the six levels and then what awaits them for we too do not trust the game master either.