The first book in this series, Fire & Flood, was an interesting problem to review: the writing was poor, world building non-existant, and the heroine shallow and silly to the point of stupidity. But then there were the pandoras – the cute little hyper loyal Pokemon critters that each of the characters were given when entering the race. And I did finish the book and even enjoyed it once I turned off my brain completely. So did the second book improve, challenge my expectations, or make a more compelling story? No…and yes. Because once again I ended up finishing it and even enjoying it despite the daft plot and inane characters. Oh, those pandoras!
Story: Tella survived the first half of the months-long race whose winner will receive a cure to a horrible illness suffered by the contenders’ relatives. With her pandora, a fox named Maddox, and a tag-along bear named Monster, Tella now has to face the last half of the race. New players emerge, boy-toy Guy and his lion still help, and familiar faces team up again (Harper and her eagle, Olivia and her elephant, Jaxon – who is pandora-less).
The “I wish I was in my leopard print slippers gossiping with friends on the phone” refrain of the first book has been replaced with “And as Guy hugged me, I imagined I was in my silver sequin dress and a hot pair of shoes instead of sweaty and dirty survival gear.” I’m not sure if that is an improvement or not but that sequin dress of her imagination did come up several times. The confusion over Guy being good or bad is replaced with the confusion of Guy helping her too much and thinking she’s needy. So, in this book, she has to go out and completely do the opposite of whatever he says (regardless of logic or safety), in order to prove she doesn’t rely on him. Tella’s thought processes were about on the same level as a 12 year old – she’s definitely not intellectually challenged.
The whole ‘misunderstood Guy’ thing in the first book was pretty much echoed in the second – to the detriment of the both characters. Too much of the book is spent with Tella bemoaning everything Guy does – if he sneezes, blinks, or even breathes, it’s clearly because he thinks she’s weak. Also, the information about the organizers (the plot ‘reveals’) from the first book are completely ignored in the second to focus solely on the race and surviving. Author Scott litters various parts with flashbacks of conversations about the creators but that’s all we see. Unfortunately, that means action jettisons character and plot development in this second book.
But – and here’s the problem – it’s really enjoyable. I tend to call these types of books Twinkies: great while you’re eating them but pretty empty otherwise. Salt & Stone is a very easy read that moves quickly and looks to really appeal to the middle grade reader (some death scenes but not much swearing and no sex). But even adults like me really enjoyed it – I just have to make sure not to think too deeply into it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.