Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel knows the daylight between a great premise and a great story is sometimes insurmountable. Hard drives everywhere are littered with unfinished (and finished) novels that start with a mind-blowing elevator pitch—and then fail to deliver.
In The Rift: Uprising (the first in a series), debut author Amy S. Foster most certainly delivers, unfolding her killer premise in the background while focusing instead on how that world-altering setup has changed her characters’ lives. This personal touch elevates a kickass idea for a sci-fi novel into something special.
A Dramatic Multiverse
The premise is simple: in 2005, an experiment causes fourteen rifts to appear around the world. These are portals between the infinite multiverses and the alternate Earths that exist within them. Kept secret by the world’s governments, the Rifts regularly disgorge “immigrants” from other universes, some very similar to us, some representing a very alternative evolutionary timeline. A race known as the Roones—highly evolved humans with advanced technology—come through and agree to assist a newly-formed agency with policing and researching the Rifts. To handle the menagerie of beings coming through, the Roones offer an implanted chip that transforms human fighters into super-soldiers. Unfortunately, the chips have a habit of killing the adults they are implanted into. The Citadel program is formed to implant the chips into children and secretly train those who survive the process to be capable killers. Not even their parents know the truth—the Citadel group is presented as a super-accelerated school program.
Our narrator is Ryn, a teenage girl with loving parents, an adored younger brother, and the weight of the multiverse on her shoulders. Unbeknownst to her family, she’s the leader of a squad of teenagers who were implanted with the augmentation chip at age seven and activated for duty at 14. She pretends to be a normal high school girl, but in reality, she is slowly being crushed by her duties (greeting newly arrived Rift immigrants, fighting them if they’re hostile), the lies she must tell to those she loves the most, and the physical limitations of the chipping process—Citadels are prevented from engaging in any sort of sexual affection. Any touch that is tinged with lust or passion inspires a “blood lust” reaction, triggering an attack response.
The Element of Chaos
Not all the Rift travelers are hostile, or even strange. Yes, Lizard People, unicorns, and even vampires (of a sparkly sort) make their way to Ryn’s world, as does a deadly race known as the Karekins, who pose the biggest threat. But so do seemingly identical humans. When a cute, brilliant boy named Ezra immigrates, Ryn is smitten, and experiences an unexpected core reaction to him. Her growing infatuation pushes her to break rules and track him down in the “village” to which immigrants are confined for life. And that’s when things get really interesting.
While Ryn’s life is heartbreaking, the more we learn about the Citadels, the more questions arise. Ezra’s arrival changes everything: he’s smart and, more importantly, he’s an outsider. He immediately senses the wrongness in the Citadel program that Ryn and her friends are too blind to see. Brilliantly, Foster allows her characters to question the logic of the outlandish world they’re trapped inside of. Once Ezra asks a few questions, Ryn begins to turn her super-soldier skills towards discovering what’s really going on.
The Real Mystery
Foster doesn’t shy away from the reality she’s constructed for her characters. Ryn and her fellow Citadels haven’t just been augmented—they’ve been abused, forced to endure something no child should ever experience, and live lives of violence, deception, and loneliness. They all suffer from varying levels of PTSD, and they’re also teenagers with raging hormones and no outlet to deal with them. Many books would stop at the “awesome super-soldier teens save the world” side of the equation, without delving into the darker truths of that narrative. As much as it is about solving a mystery, this is a book about young people discovering their own agency. By the end, you won’t just want answers to the mystery (although, yes, you totally will)—you’ll want revenge for these kids. It’s compelling stuff, enough to power a series we’ll definitely be following all the way to the end.