Note: There are necessarily spoilers for book one of this series, The Gathering.
The Calling, the second book of the “Darkness Rising” series, picks up where The Gathering left off (see my review of The Gathering, here). By page 24, though, the author has come up with a totally uncontrived way to give an excellent and complete summary of The Gathering, for those who hadn’t read the first book or had forgotten it.
Maya Delaney and other teenagers in Salmon Creek (a small town built by the drug research corporation St. Cloud) have discovered that they were subjects of genetic experimentation. All of the kids had been enhanced in some way, with the new traits only coming into full flower post-puberty. Unfortunately, a few kids have also suffered from bad side effects, such as debilitating headaches or even psychosis.
Maya’s enhancement is that she is a shape-shifter, in this case meaning she can turn into a cougar and back. Rafe, Maya’s sometime boyfriend, is also a shape-shifter, as is his sister Annie, who has, however, become mentally enfeebled as a result. Maya’s best friend Daniel is a “benandandi” – someone who can sense evil. Most of Maya’s friends don’t know what their enhancement is yet, although they can guess at it from what they excel at doing.
The teens figure out that they have been changed as part of a lethal inter-corporate struggle between St. Cloud and a rival corporation, both of which are staffed with adult supernaturals. Creating future enhanced employees is how the companies intend to get a leg up on rivals staffed with “only” humans. Maya and her friends realize they are in danger as their skill sets develop, and they endeavor to get away.
Both corporations pursue them, not intending to let any of them escape. The fugitives need food, money, and help, but they don’t know whom they can trust. In addition, they struggle not to be defeated by fear, increasingly bad side effects, or internecine conflicts.
Evaluation: Armstrong writes in such an appealing and persuasive way that I never find myself thinking “this is stupid” from reading her stories. Her characters seem real and for the most part are people you absolutely wish you knew. I also love the interactions among the friends, and they way they learn whom to trust, and how they need to mature in order to survive. Importantly, Armstrong is expert at making her female characters strong without having them seem rebarbative. If you don’t mind paranormal, I think Armstrong is one of the best. She writes with a lot of humor, and a great ear for dialogue.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012