This spring I discovered a new author – new to me, that is: Michael F. Stewart. I read and reviewed his fantasy 24 Bones for a Tribute Books blog tour and was captivated by it. So when I heard that he is touring another book I was keen to find out more.
His current blog tour is for Assured Destruction: Script Kiddie, the second book in a contemporary young adult series. Here’s how its publisher, Non Sequitur Press, describes the book: “Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.
But that’s not all.
A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend–maybe even her life.”
Assured Destruction: Script Kiddie is very different than 24 Bones but equally captivating. 24 Bones is a dark fantasy with a complicated plot, a large cast of characters and a lyrical writing style. Assured Destruction is a much simpler book with fewer characters, a linear plot and a modern, spare writing style. It seems to me that Stewart can handle these two very different genres with equal competence as both books held my attention from the outset.
Script Kiddie has a fast paced plot with lots of action. Some of the action is physical: Jan tails her scared, vulnerable friend as well as the child predator who is targeting the girl and intervenes in a violent confrontation between the two of them. The rest of the action is cyber: Jan uses her computer skills to profile a killer and to locate the man who is preying on her friend. The technical aspect of her computer exploits are woven seamlessly into the story so that it’s easy, even for non-techie readers, to follow what she’s doing without the plot losing any of its tension.
Using succinct descriptions Stewart vividly builds Jan’s quirky world in the warehouse where she lives with her invalid mother and the computer network she has created to substitute for a family. Her unusual habitat adds an interesting angle to the setting. And, as a Canadian, I was delighted and amused to find this world set in Ottawa, Canada, where according to Jan ‘nothing ever happens’.
Jan is a strong yet vulnerable character: a teenager trying to fit into the world on her own terms. Her thoughts reveal a mixture of self-awareness and naivety which rings true of an adolescent and Stewart portrays this with humour and empathy. I laughed when Jan decided not to dress ‘like a cartoon character’ for an important meeting in order to be taken seriously by the adult world and I wanted to hug her as she struggled to figure out what she needed to do to keep her boyfriend, Jonny, interested in her. Stewart has drawn a very believable main character and, as a female who is adept with computers, she’s also a non-stereotypical, positive role model for young women.
Jan’s relationships with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and her own boyfriend are central to the story. She has a close relationship with her disabled mother and is determined to cope with being her parent’s carer. She develops a grudging respect and acceptance of her mother’s boyfriend, Peter. She takes faltering, tentative steps to build a solid relationship with her boyfriend, Jonny. The two are an odd pair: a strong, unconventional computer geek and a shy, sensitive graffiti artist. The adult and adolescent secondary characters are all unique and convincing. Jan’s relationships with them engage the reader – you care what happens to them.
How an adolescent copes with caring for an invalid parent; a single parent’s right to date and form new relationships and the dangers of internet luring are all topics that are woven into the plot. These issues are relevant to teens today and Stewart tackles them in an honest and informative way.
I enjoyed Assured Destruction: Script Kiddie so much that I bought and read Assured Destruction, the first book in the series. I found Script Kiddie a more gripping read than the first book. Stewart really got into his stride in the second book. There were some questions still unanswered at the end of Script Kiddie. Why did Jan’s father leave his wife and daughter? Where is he now? What is Peter’s past? Why does he want to help Jan? The story resolved satisfactorily without answering these questions but I wonder if they weren’t left hanging deliberately. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author has a third book up his sleeve. If he has, I look forward to reading it. Meanwhile Script Kiddie will entertain most teenage readers and lots of adults too.
About Michael F. Stewart: After crewing ships in the Antarctic and the Baltic Sea and some fun in venture capital, Michael anchored himself (happily) to a marriage and a boatload of kids. Now he injects his adventurous spirit into his writing with brief respites for research into the jungles of Sumatra and Guatemala, the ruins of Egypt and Tik’al, paddling the Zambezi and diving whatever cave or ocean reef will have him. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and SF Canada, and the author of the Assured Destruction series, 24 Bones, The Sand Dragon, Hurakan, Ruination and several award winning graphic novels for young adults.