A group of teenagers, engaged in a deadly serious game-like competition. Life-changing fortunes are at stake, if not life itself. An ominously secretive corporation pulling the strings.
Many of the elements in Nyxia (2017) are familiar, but Scott Reintgen combines them with some more unusual plot features ― a worldwide cast that is primarily of minority races and nationalities, an appealing urban black young man as a protagonist, and a trip through space to a distant planet, rather misleadingly called Eden, that is clothed in secrecy. The result is an adventurous page-turner of a YA book.
The mysterious Babel Communications has gathered ten teenagers for a trip to the planet of Eden. As they begin their trip to Eden on the spaceship Genesis, Marcus Defoe, an executive of Babel, explains to the teens that wealth beyond their imagining will be offered them ― fifty thousand dollars a month for life, free top-grade medical care for their families, and more ― if the teens sign on the dotted line and, by the way, agree to a gag order on the secrets they’ll be learning. All sign.
Defoe explains to the group that they are traveling to Eden to work there for Babel for a few years, mining a near-magical, incredibly valuable mineral called nyxia found only on Eden that responds to your mental commands and morphs into (almost) anything you mentally ask of it. Why teens? There are dangerous natives living on Eden who are deadly enemies of humans, but culturally they reverence children and young people, putting them in a safe zone. So Babel has picked teens in desperate circumstances and offered them incredible boatloads of money to go to Eden and do the nyxia mining for them. Apparently non-interference with alien races is non-existent as a guiding principle for Babel Communications.
During the year-long trip to Eden, Babel puts the teens through brutal training, turning it into a competition: points are awarded and scores are kept and cumulated, and the bottom two teens will be sent home, missing out on most of the incredible financial benefits. But Babel has much more up its sleeve than its personnel are saying, and you can’t believe everything you hear from them.
Emmett, the main character and narrator of the novel, is complex, bright, and sympathetic enough to be an engaging protagonist. He struggles with anger and resentment against injustice, but diligently strives to follow the moral guideposts that his loving parents and others have helped him to form. Emmett habitually works to control his anger, channeling it into mental filing cabinets (“I file the thought away under P for Power”). There are also several very strong, intelligent and capable female characters. The multi-ethnic cast is a plus, particularly since the diversity is handled in a way that it makes complete sense for the storyline.
Scott Reintgen, a debut author, has created a gripping and compelling read in Nyxia, the first in a planned trilogy. There are a few minor inconsistencies in tone and characterization. Nyxia itself is a fantastical, near-magical substance that has so many diverse, amazing uses that it veers close to fantasy, requiring some suspension of disbelief. Additionally, the competition-driven plot may strike some readers as overfamiliar. Nyxia distinctly reminded me of both The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game. Still, I think fans of those books will find Nyxia hugely appealing. Not just a paler imitation, Nyxia is a book that adds to the genre. I highly recommend it if you like young adult science fiction adventures, and I’ll be anxious to pounce on the next book in this series.