Scavenged: Scott Arbuckle
Young Adult Science Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of this book and am leaving a voluntary review. This opinion is entirely my own and is in no way influenced by outside parties.
Scavenged is Scott Arbuckle’s debut novel, and it’s an impressive debut. I haven’t read much Sci-Fi, but this was an excellent bridge into the genre for me. Scavenged is the story of Orion Danes, a teenager who struggles to retain his humanity following his abduction and cybernetic augmentation by a mysterious race of aliens. Orion is made into a superhuman killing machine along with two other survivors: mind-melting psionic Lyra and cigarillo-smoking mercenary Auriga. Together, the three of them navigate a dangerous world filled with fanatical zealots, murderous lizard-people, unscrupulous scientists, and dispassionate, cunning alien overlords. I’ll tackle this review by analyzing style/prose, pacing, plot, consistency, and character development.
The prose is both a source of admiration and the occasional furrowed brow. It’s tightly-written and full of vivid imagery. The descriptions of both interior and exterior environments, be they war-torn cities or barren landscapes, are incredible. I can actually see the setting, which is saying a lot, because I often struggle to imagine how things look. Arbuckle accomplishes this by choosing powerful words that leave a residual picture in the reader’s mind.
However, his battle scenes can become cluttered with these gut-punch words, and where one or two create a positive effect, three, four, or five bog down the flow of the scene. Occasionally, a special thesaurus word yanks me out of the fight, which is a shame, because there’s a genuine intensity to most of action scenes. Even though I’m reasonably confident he’s not going to off his main character in the first half of the book, I still wonder how Orion will survive his encounters as they unfold. Speaking of which, the fight scenes can get pretty intense. While there’s little to no gore, people do get shot, blasted, electrocuted, vaporized, cut open and experimented on. Parents buying for their kids should leaf through and make sure they’re good with the level of violence. I personally don’t see a huge problem with it for the intended audience, but you never know. Anyways, I would rate his prose as a strength, but a little bit of restraint with some of those five-syllable words would elevate it to the next level.
One final note on style: it’s clear the book was professionally edited. I don’t think I spotted a single typo.
The pacing for the first half of the book is phenomenal. Arbuckle drops you right into the story and gives you two good characters to care about right away, and later introduces a third (and my personal favorite). I tore through the first half of the book. Unfortunately, there’s a spot where the main character disappears for three or four chapters, and we spend our time with other characters. It’s not really avoidable, as he’s working on a time-consuming task that would be monotonous for the reader to actually read about. I think leaving this specific task out of the narration is the right call, I just don’t have an answer for the main character disappearing for the third quarter. This is a minor issue, and overall, the tightness of the writing itself creates a story that moves along at an impressive clip.
I very much enjoyed the majority of the plot and worldbuilding. As I stated earlier, I’m fairly new to the Sci-Fi genre, so much of this is new to me. Still, I’m familiar with the whole “aliens experiment on people and give them special abilities” trope. The powers in Scavenged felt unique and fresh, with some pretty cool explanations behind them. I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and am familiar with the inner workings of the human body and nervous system. While the enhancements described in the book are clearly impossible in today’s age, they seem VERY plausible. It’s not unthinkable than an advanced alien race would be able to do things exactly like this to us. If you hate books that are heavy on the science, some of the explanations might drag for you, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s obvious he did his research and went to great lengths to create a solid foundation upon which these devastating powers are based.
The plot itself is straightforward but not entirely predictable. I was thrown for a loop more than once, and there’s some great potential for future events to spiral well out-of-control. I have one issue with how one specific problem is solved. It makes sense in the world of the story, so it’s not even a plot hole. It just seems very cliche compared to what I was hoping for. For a character as powerful and resourceful as Orion, I was expecting him to have a more creative solution to this one thing. That aside, I think the story itself was engaging and compelling.
The book is consistent with its tone, style, in-world rules, and everything else throughout. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because it’s rock-solid in that regard. Weapons run out of ammo. Vehicles run out of gas. People get thirsty and dehydrated when hiking in the desert. Characters remain as powerful as they are, not as powerful (or weak) as the plot requires. The small details make the story come alive and feel authentic.
Lastly, the character development. All three main characters are very likable and feel like real people. There are some moments of genuine tenderness and reflection between Orion and Lyra, and their friendship/budding relationship is built through mutual suffering and shared experience rather than awkward small-talk and cheap revelations. It’s… nice. You’ll see what I mean. And Auriga is one (I’m really resisting the urge to curse so the review doesn’t get yanked from any other sites), tough… human… person. He’s great. Arbuckle has firmly established his leading trio, and I look forward to seeing them grow over the sequel(s).
Overall, Scavenged was a really fun, entertaining read. If the issues I mentioned above make you go “so what?” then you’ll absolutely love this book. If the issues I mentioned give you pause, read it anyways, because it’s still a great book. Congratulations to Scott Arbuckle for nailing his debut. I look forward to reading his future works.