Icons -- Margaret Stohl

IconsSeventeen years ago, the Day occurred: the alien overlords arrived and dropped Icons that unleashed multiple EMP-like pulses that not only cut off the electricity, ended long-range communications, and stopped vehicles in their tracks, but that killed every living thing in the vicinity.

Except for a recurring nightmare, Doloria Maria de la Cruz—'Dol' or 'Dolly' to everyone except the Padre and her best friend, Ro—doesn't remember anything about her life before the Grasslands. All she knows is that she has two secrets to keep: the first is that she survived The Day when no one else in her family, on her block, in her neighborhood did... and the second is a small gray dot on her wrist.

The mark on her wrist is strikingly similar to the two red dots on Ro's wrist, and as both of them are strengthened/weakened by their heightened emotions—Dol can feel other peoples' anguish, Ro has regular bouts of berserker rage—it seems clear that they are both somehow different, somehow other.

Then they are captured by the Embassy forces—humans who serve the aliens—and they discover that not only are there others, but that they might be more powerful than they could have ever imagined...

Ways that this book worked for me: I liked the Merk, Fortis. Though if I'm being entirely honest, that might have had more to do with me picturing him as Mark Sheppard than with the book itself. Then again, if Stohl was shooting for a Badger-like character, kudos to her, because she totally succeeded.

Also, I liked that emotion was a strength. All four Icon Children are capable of drawing on and manipulating different emotions—each of them in very different ways—and it's nice to see an action-adventure story in which emotion is embraced, rather than overcome.

In terms of format, I enjoyed the various documents that finished off each chapter: secret memos, propaganda from the Resistance and from the alien-ruled government, autopsy reports, scribbling from notebooks, and song lyrics. In general, it's an effective way to flesh out worldbuilding.

Ways that this book didn't work for me: For a book that was so concerned with the power of emotion, it left me totally cold. The overwhelming grief that Dol is always working to keep at bay, Ro's rage, even—maybe especially—the love rectangle: none of it moved me. Now, it's possible that I'm just a cold-hearted snake (look into my eyes), but... as I've been known to cry at McDonald's commercials, I don't think a lack of heart on my part is the problem here. The romance felt like it was there because it HAD to be there, not that it was there—as in Yancey's The Fifth Wave, which has such a similar premise that it's almost impossible to avoid making mental comparisons—because that's what the characters were really, truly, feeling. For me, where there is no emotional connection, there is no caring, and where there is no caring, there is boredom.

Also, minor problem with something spoiler-ish that happened towards the end. SPOILER: You know how in The Blue Sword, Harry brings the mountain range down on Thurra and his army by holding Gonturan up in the air and calling on her ancestors? Well, that works, story-wise. It works because Harry was being compelled by a force bigger than her, it worked because the entire book is threaded through with Fate and Old Magic: it's a deus ex machina, but that feels right for the world and the story. Towards the end of Icons, Dol does something very similar, but it's less successful: it felt like Stohl was shooting for those same shivers, that same feel of overwhelming power—and to be fair, some of Dol's monologue at that point IS quite effective—but because it all kind of comes out of nowhere, it feels like a deus ex machina in a world where a deus ex machina doesn't fit. Wow, that was a long explanation for a really minor issue. END SPOILER.

Nutshell: Weak. If you're looking for a post-alien-apocalypse story starring a teenaged girl who deals with confusing and emotionally-engaging romantic entanglements, try Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave instead.