Review: ‘Strike’ by Delilah S. Dawson


The hit list was just the beginning.

Time to strike back.

After faking her own death to escape her term as an indentured assassin for Valor Savings Bank, Patsy is on the run with her boyfriend, Wyatt. All she wants to do is go home, but that’s never going to happen—not as long as Valor’s out to get her and the people she loves.

Left with no good choices, Patsy’s only option is to meet with a mysterious group that calls itself the Citizens for Freedom.

Led by the charismatic Leon Crane, the CFF seem like just what Patsy has been looking for. Leon promises that if she joins, she’ll finally get revenge on Valor for everything they’ve done to her—and for everything they’ve made her do.

But Patsy knows the CFF has a few secrets of their own. One thing is certain: they’ll do absolutely anything to complete their mission, no matter who’s standing in their way. Even if it’s Patsy herself.

Strike is book two in the Hit series; you can find my review of the first book here. The basic premise of the series is that an apparently evil big bank has bought up the US national debt and has very quietly taken over the country. Its first step was to enlist teenage assassins to thin the “dead weight” — people with huge debts to Valor and no prospect of paying them off. Patsy is one of those teen assassins, forced to do so by means of her mother’s own debt. (If she doesn’t, her mother becomes some of that dead weight.)

And all of this has been consented to, because who ever reads the full terms of service when applying for a credit card?

The premise does stretch the credibility a little bit, at least for me — though that might be because I don’t live in the US, with its sub-prime mortgage crisis as part of my personal experience. Still, if you can accept the premise, these books are lightning-paced and sooooo addictive; I gobbled Strike up in two days. (I did the same with Hit. I love Dawson’s writing style.)

In Strike, we pick the story up where Hit leaves off; Patsy and Wyatt are on the run with a trail of bodies behind them, unable to go home, out of cash and unwilling to use Wyatt’s credit card for obvious reasons. So they hook up with the local chapter of the Citizens for Freedom, an underground group seeking to resist Valor’s sneaky national takeover by fighting against the capitalist machine. Leon Crane is the head of the local chapter. His family owns a lot of the small businesses around town, and you’d think he’d be all for Valor and its focus on the almighty dollar, but he’s an anarchist and creepy cult leader at heart. He is especially fond of recruiting the ex-Valor teen assassins — who better to use as his field agents?

Of course, he and Patsy … don’t get on.

I really love how Patsy develops in this story. She’s clearly suffering from PTSD, but she’s also able to knuckle down when she has to. She discovers a new, non-lethal way to rebel, via graffiti tags — hence the awesome cover. Graffiti is much quicker and clearer in delivering a message than yarn-bombing; Patsy’s use of it becomes a bit of a psychological crutch, and like all good crutches gets her into strife.

Patsy is devoted to her mother and her labrador, Matty, and very concerned that she not turn into the detached killer that Leon and Valor both seem to want her to be. That’s not to say that she won’t pull the trigger when she has to, though. She’s had a lot of practice at it by this point.

Her relationship with Wyatt is something that on the one hand feels a little rushed, but on the other is entirely understandable given the place they’ve both been put in. I got a bit annoyed at Patsy at one point when she gets mad at Wyatt for something that was not his fault — given that in the first book he manages to forgive her in fairly short order for killing his father. (Even though he hated his father, that still took an impressive effort.) I’m not saying I don’t understand her desire to lash out at someone, but poor Wyatt didn’t really deserve it.

Fortunately for her, he has the patience of a saint and is willing to give her the space she needs to cool down. I think we all need a Wyatt in our lives. ❤

One of the reasons this book didn’t earn a full five stars from me was that I found the CFF’s methods and choice of targets a little strange. How does sending the owner of a store franchise broke via extreme acts of vandalism hurt a big bank/new government like Valor? Why not target Valor itself? Maybe I missed something? But we get to find out more about Patsy’s absentee father, see more of the connection between the bank and her family, and learn why her list of targets in Hit all bore some connection to her rather than being random.

I’m unsure whether the series is intended to be a trilogy or perhaps longer, but although there isn’t a cliffhanger ending there are still some plot threads left unresolved. I’m definitely keen for book three!

hitstrikeFour stars

theendbookendIn case you missed it, yesterday at Aussie Owned and Read I blogged about five bookish gifts for blokes (in belated honour of Father’s Day, and in anticipation of Christmas).

Mini-reviews: ‘Ensnared’ by A. G. Howard and ‘Hit’ by Delilah S. Dawson

After writing like crazy during the week, I’d intended to write like crazy a little more on the weekend. But instead I sorta kinda read like crazy instead.

This weekend I finished:

  • Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows #8) by Kim Harrison
  • Ensnared (Splintered #3) by A. G. Howard
  • Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

I say finished, because I started Ensnared over a month ago, and I’ve been listening to Black Magic Sanction as an audiobook for the last two weeks. I’m not going to review the latter, because it’s book eight in the series and I figure by this point you’re either committed to it or you’re not! I give it four stars, though. (I did review the first book in the series, Dead Witch Walking, here, if you’re curious. The series is a sexy adult urban fantasy with some awesome worldbuilding.)

Onto the other two…

Ensnared by A. G. Howard

EnsnaredI found the start of Ensnared a little hard to get into, but this might be a situation of “it’s not you, it’s me”. If you read my review of the previous book, Unhinged, you’ll know that I read it in 2013, in the hospital immediately before and after having surgery. In the intervening 18 months, I basically forgot the entire book. I’m not kidding — I could remember the events in the first story, but was really confused by the way the third one started, because it was like the second one never happened.

Damned general anaesthetic and awesome pain medication.

However, it did give me the chance to test A. G. Howard on her ability to seed back-story, and I can happily report that she included just enough that I didn’t get totally lost, without being over the top.

High fives?

Once I got party-way through — probably around about where Morpheus shows up, which I’m sure is a TOTAL coincidence — I really got back into the story and the world. At that point I finished the book in only a couple of days and really enjoyed it. Alyssa really comes into her own, Jeb finally redeems himself in my eyes, and Morpheus… Sigh. He’s Morpheus. ❤

Four stars

Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

HitThis beautiful little piece of book mail arrived a while ago and got bumped to the top of my to-read pile, because I have a bit of a crush on Dawson and her work. Her last book, Servants of the Storm, blew my mind with her writing and the WTF twist at the end. (I’m  still hanging out for a sequel, BTW!)

Hit didn’t disappoint.

The genre is dystopian, but it’s the kind of dystopian we don’t often see except in zombie fiction — the kind where the world is just starting to collapse. The government has been taken over by an Evil Corporation (TM) and no one has realised yet. No one except Patsy, the main character … and presumably a bunch of other indentured assassins, although we don’t really get to see them.

Patsy is given five days to confront ten people who have defaulted on their debts with Valor Savings Bank. They have the choice between paying their debts (which they can’t), agreeing to be indentured assassins themselves, or being executed. The book has one chapter per victim, with the chapter title being their name. (I loved that touch so much.)

Of course, there’s even more going on than a seventeen-year-old girl being forced to shoot people and having a slow nervous breakdown, and the sense that there was a greater, overarching scheme takes this from The Hunger Games set in small-town USA to “can I guess the conspiracy theory” hijinks. (For the record, I guessed some of it.)

Like Servants of the Storm, Hit is a book in dire need of a sequel. I loved how it ended, but I need to know what happens next. NEED TO.

Five stars

Dystopian fiction and ‘Runners’

This guest post is by Sharon Sant, whose new dystopian novel, Runners, came out on 7 June.

The Oxford dictionary defines dystopia as: ‘an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of Utopia.’

That sounds like a perfect place to set a novel.  And it seems that I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve been reading reports for some time now about how agents and publishers are sick of dystopian novels landing on their desks.  According to them, since The Hunger Games, we’ve gone dystopia crazy. I hate to burst that industry bubble, but I don’t think that dystopia is going away any time soon. In fact, I don’t think it was ever really missing from the cultural landscape in one form or another. Thinking back to novels like 1984, even as far back as The Time Machine by H G Wells or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’s clear that we’ve always been fascinated by the ideas of dystopia.

As a narrative tool, dystopia can hold a mirror up to our own society to make all sorts of political and social statements, or it can be used simply to issue warnings, the latter being closely linked and often overlapping with speculative fiction. For me, however, it also represents a society where the normal rules of our world no longer apply. Like fantasy, dystopia is a setting that you can manipulate; it presents the opportunity to create a world that enables the story you want to tell to unfold how you want.  You want kids beating each other to death on a TV show?  In a dystopian society you can make this entirely plausible.

When I first had the idea for my dystopian novel, Runners, I knew straight away what the setting would be: a near-future Britain where the current economic hardships and climate change had progressed to their worst possible scenarios. I’m a huge fan of fantasy in realist settings and for me this was just perfect.  There are no silver-clad futuristic cities, no radiation-soaked skies full of spacecraft, no mutated humanoid species in Runners—all fantastic settings for dystopian fiction, of course—there’s just a crumbling version of a contemporary Britain and a poverty-stricken population that no longer cares what happens to anyone.

I took a lot of my ideas from periods of austerity in history, so there are Victorian-like features such as child labour and workhouse-type institutions, and then there’s rationing like during the Second World War. These things have already happened in real life and, just because they’ve gone away, it doesn’t mean they can’t come back. Because in real life, just the tiniest false step from the people in charge and we could actually find ourselves living there. It’s a scary prospect for us but a perfect dystopia for a book.

I think that some of the best fictional dystopias are the ones almost close enough for our society to touch, the ones where you can easily imagine yourself living in it. For me, that’s where the weirdness and the fear come from.

About Runners

Elijah is nothing special. He’s just a skinny kid doing his best to stay one step ahead of starvation and the people who would have him locked away in a labour camp—just another Runner. But what he stumbles upon in a forest in Hampshire will show him that the harsh world he knows will become an even more sinister place, unless he can stop it. As past and present and parallel dimensions collide, freedom becomes the last thing on his mind as he is suddenly faced with a battle to save his world from extinction.  But before Elijah can find the courage to be the hero the world needs, he must banish his own demons and learn to trust his friends. And all the while, the sinister figure of Maxwell Braithwaite looms, his path inextricably bound to Elijah’s by a long dead physicist, and hellbent on stopping Elijah, whatever the cost.

Find Runners on Goodreads or at Immanion Press.

Runners Cover1

About Sharon Sant:

Sharon Sant was born in Dorset in England but now lives in Staffordshire. She graduated from Staffordshire University in 2009 with a degree in English and creative writing. She currently works part time as a freelance editor and continues to write her own stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes across many genres, when not busy trying in vain to be a domestic goddess, she can often be found lurking in local coffee shops with her head in a book. Sometimes she pretends to be clever but really loves nothing more than watching geeky TV and eating Pringles. She is the author of a string of YA novels including the Sky Song trilogy and Runners.

To find out more you can follow her on Twitter or Facebook, or at her website.