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By Bob Bannon

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Fantastic world-building, populated with brightly drawn characters and a wonderfully detailed setting make RISE OF HOWLERS an engrossing read for teens--and those readers who remember being one.

After a near extinction-level natural disaster kills most of Earth’s population and unleashes a horrible illness that turns many survivors into zombie-like killers, a few hundred people find refuge on a cruise ship. Travelling up and down the west coast of the US, scavenging what they can from ports along the way, troubled teen Nick discovers a teen-age girl among the ruins and deadly howlers.

RISE OF HOWLERS grabs readers quickly with a dystopian San Francisco as the opening scene and a teenage boy who can’t seem to help bucking authority. Wandering away from his assigned post, Nick finds Harper Chin, a young girl on her own. Welcomed about the ship, Harper’s viewpoint serves as an introduction to this floating city and author Bob Bannon’s easy-to-follow tone skillfully draws the reader into this world. Point of view shifts between the two teens, with an occasional passage from one of the main adult characters, but it’s rarely distracting and serves to give the reader a wider view of the world.

Most of the novel takes place aboard the ship, a functional luxury cruise liner with a population of a few hundred, including many teens and younger children. As Harper adjusts to life on the ship and begins to build a relationship with Nick, their respective back stories emerge, and the history of the ship and its passengers is fleshed out. The characters are compelling, well-drawn, and complex. From sympathetic adults to teenage cliques, the social interactions are satisfying and fun. Action aboard the ship lags a bit, as the author develops the characters and fills in the complex social scenes, but readers will hardly notice because it is done so well. There are some action scenes as the ship puts into various ports for scouting/scavenging missions but there is not much authentic tension as the goals and stakes don’t seem very high.

Deep into the book, when the ship receives a mysterious radio distress call after years without any contact at all, the tension ramps up. The big mystery and action section of the novel do seem somewhat rushed and confusing, but all the early investment in character development ensures that readers will turn the next page, and the one after that. As with most good books, the ending of RISE OF HOWLERS comes too soon and you’re left wanting more. In this case, it is a mixed bag. The author obviously left the story hanging for a sequel, which is great, but at the same time, it doesn’t really feel as if this book was quite finished. Nonetheless, RISE OF HOWLERS could be the beginning of a wonderful YA series that should appeal to many adults as well.

Fantastic world-building, populated with brightly drawn characters and a wonderfully detailed setting make RISE OF HOWLERS an engrossing read for teens–and those readers who remember being one.

~J.V. Bolkan for IndieReader

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