by Margaret Fortune
Cover Artist: Malija / Shutterstock
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756410810
Date: 02 June 2015 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Nova is a suspenseful YA science fiction novel with a literal ticking clock.
Nova is an interesting book about what it means to be human and for what one is willing to sacrifice one's self (and one's future). When Nova opens first person narrator Lia Johnansen thinks she is a 16-year-old prisoner of war whose parents died while living in an internment camp after the fall of Aurora Colony. But her memory is fuzzy, and shortly after arriving at New Sol's space station along with 499 other refugees, she realizes that she is not the real Lia at all but a genetically engineered human bomb with a copy of Lia's memories rigged to explode in 36 hours, according to a timer in her head.
Initially, she has no qualms about this mission. But then she meets Michael, a friend of the real Lia, whose family had moved to this station. Human bomb Lia has enough of the original Lia's memories to pass and Michael accepts her differences in behavior and tastes as the result of two years in the internment camp. But then, with 00:02:33 remaining before she explodes, the timer halts and she realizes she is a dud and won't explode. However, strong emotion, such as fighting with another refugee who tries to steal her stuff or kissing Michael, causes her clock to lose seconds.
Gradually, as human bomb Lia spends more time with Michael, she develops feelings for him, and stops wanting to explode. This middle section is the most YA part of the book as friendship turns into romance. There's the slight danger of discovery by the PsyCorp, but otherwise most of the action here is internal. Fortunately, things speed up in the last section as a couple of twists force Lia to radically change her conception of her identity and her mission.
Lia is a well-developed character with real emotions. When she fights another refugee and notices her clock activates again, she sincerely wants to explode. Later, she feels guilty posing as Lia in front of Michael and admits she is not the real Lia, although she quickly backtracks and claims that what she meant is that she has changed since the time when they were best friends on Aurora. For his part Michael is developed a bit more beyond just being Lia's love interest. He gets angry that his parents spend so much time in space that he rarely sees them. Michael's sister's initial jealousy and slow acceptance of Lia also ring true. But, aside from these three, only one other character in the book is more than a name and job description.
This is a first novel, which may account for some of the pacing problems in the middle section. World building is fairly minimal. The enemy is never really developed and the scientific elements of the space station and spaceships are mostly background. Nor do readers ever learn much about why there are refugees, although one soldier does say sending prisoners back was a goodwill gesture.
The young adult elements dominate Nova. The romance, while emotional, never goes beyond a kiss. The book is best suited for YA readers in late middle/early high school who are occasional science fiction readers but also like romance and books of self-discovery.
Despite the ticking clock, those who want a fast-moving plot or suspense will find the middle section slow going.