Devil’s Pocket by John Dixon
Gallery Books (August 4, 2015)
352 pages, e-book $8.99, paperback $10.99
Reviewed by David Simms
John Dixon gave the YA world a much needed punch to the throat last year with Phoenix Island, a novel that was filled with brutality, humanity, and intelligence. It launched the television series Intelligence, but even better, won the Bram Stoker Award for “Best YA Novel” this past May.
Sequels in book series usually tail off a bit, even in the most successful books, typically a rehashing of the first book. What does Dixon do? He takes a wide left turn into uncharted territory where it could have been disastrous for the many fans he accumulated. Devil’s Pocket is a raging success because of that turn, steering clear of the obvious and taking his hero into a world that will evoke feelings of Lord of the Flies (again), but also Fight Club mixed with The Hunger Games, but with an uppercut that makes those titles pale in their raw power and storytelling.
Carl Freeman, a teen who was sent to Phoenix Island as a sentence for his repeated fights, brawls, and beatings, even though most of them were in defense of the underdog or self-defense, has survived Stark, the leader of the prison and training grounds for a new breed of soldiers. He has been implanted with several chips, in his brain and throughout his body, that give him superhuman speed and power, along with a rage he battles daily. As he rises through the ranks to become Stark’s right hand man, the commander offers him a challenge he can’t turn down.
Stark sends Carl to Devil’s Pocket, a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere, to compete in the “Funeral Games.” The three man team will compete for a ten million dollar championship, along with earning the coveted prize from Stark. His crew? Agbeko, the heavyweight, another survivor from the first book and facing his own demons from a childhood much worse than Carl’s, and Tex, a smartass lightweight who has a quick trigger and quicker mouth. As they battle teams from across the globe, Carl devises a plan to take down “The Few,” a society of faceless men and women who may rule much more than this island. He discovers that Octavia, his interest from the first book, shows up as a companion to Romeo, an enigmatic fighter, yet both appear to have a plan in mind.
The fighting scenes are brutal and authentic, the suspense as Carl unfolds the mystery of the Few builds throughout, and the characterization superb. Dixon has penned another soon to be bestseller and obvious Stoker contender for next year. Forget the odd short-lived show; Carl and his story deserve their own time in the spotlight.
Highly recommended and deserves to be in schools and libraries everywhere.