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  • Writer's pictureMatt Johnston

Scavenged: A Review

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

I’ll always feel I have to tread carefully with YA literature, primarily because I am not its intended audience, but also because I am never entirely sure why this needs a separate genre. I mention this not to dismiss the ‘YA’ literature produced, but as a caveat when it is subsequently reviewed by someone who has not fallen within the target audience age bracket for nearly a quarter of a century. As such, this review of Scott Arbuckle’s novel Scavenged has become a battle with the fading memory of the tastes and views of my teenage self.

The book follows our main protagonist is a teenage boy called Orion, a scavenger, living off his wits and significant skills in the midst of a continual war between humanity and alien hordes (think velociraptors, but bigger and armed). A battle which rages on while a third alien race quietly instils itself as overlords over a cowered populace. To make matters worse for Orion, the aliens have been taking certain liberties, abducting him, tinkering with his body to give him some pretty substantial upgrades, but not without significant detriment to him and his family. Arbuckle wastes no time in dropping the poor lad into the midst of this maelstrom, and the pace of the book is unrelenting as Orion and the ensemble battle survival and control.

Both the teenage and 40+ version of me would agree that the story is good, the high concepts are plausible and coherent, and one of the main strengths of the story is the creating of the geo-politic reality of the various human and alien factions. Arbuckle also does a good job in blurring the morality of the main protagonist’s actions and motives. The reader is kept guessing and the characters are richer and more rounded because of it.

One of my main complaints is ironically what I suspect the teenage version of me would have enjoyed most. The book is dominated by deadly firefights and pitch battles between the main characters (and others for a significant body count). The author has gone to great length to describe and choreograph these scenes, providing detail of tactics and weaponry which I fear passed me by. But if writers like Tom Clancy and Chris Ryan are your thing then you will probably get more out of this than I.

My problem is not so much the gun-play itself but the sheer volume of the book devoted to it. As I mentioned above, this is a good premise, but an interesting exploration into the multifaceted universe seems to have been sacrificed. So, instead of a narrative punctuated with explosive action, you have a protracted series of armed skirmishes which I felt tempted to skip past to get back to the story.

The pace of the book is slick, a necessity for a younger audience, but with so many monumental events happening in quick succession, there is little room to flesh out and explore details beyond that which is critical to the plot. To my mind, Lyra, the main female protagonist, suffers as a result (she is also relegated to the role of damsel in distress for large parts of the book and I question how much young women and girls will take from the book). Again, I suspect that my teenage self would not agree, and I find myself imagining the charring response he would give to such criticisms before sulking out the room: “OK granddad, whatever.”

Scott Arbuckle: @starbuckle81

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