Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

 Title: Never Fade

 Series: The Darkest Minds (#2)

 Author: Alexandra Bracken

 Genre: dystopian, sci-fi

 Rating: ★★

 In short: wow. Even reading this more than a year after I finished The Darkest Minds, it still managed to blow me away.

Spoiler warnings for book 1, The Darkest Minds, so the blurb is under the cut.

Goodreads:  Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?

So after the insane ending to The Darkest Minds, you don’t think Never Fade can match up. I didn’t. There’s a huge shift in scenery between the two books, and perhaps I started reading the latter too soon because I was so overwhelmed that I put it down. Ages later I picked it up again, thinking I might as well finish since the first book was so good (not that I ever planned on DNFing). And it was probably one of the best decisions of my winter break.

Never Fade picks up with Ruby now a part of the Children’s League, and leader of a team. It looks like a we’re-only-moving-forwards situation for Ruby, until her dangerous work at the League forces her to confront her past. Now she has to track Liam down for vital information he doesn’t even know he has, and she has to face him even after what she did to him.

The plot, the pacing, everything was so well done. To my surprise, I really liked the new characters we meet—Vida, Jude, Nico—unlike most sophomores where I’m clamouring to get the old characters back. This is one of those books where all you want is for all the characters to live in a happy, boring suburb where they’re never in danger and all their endgames work out and they never have to suffer again and-

I am Jess, Jess is me.

Never Fade had a way of drawing me back into Ruby’s world until I found myself wondering why I ever put it down. I never once felt overwhelmed by the information, or felt the need to consult The Darkest Minds for something I was confused about. It’s not one of those books where the prequel has to be fresh in your mind for you to enjoy it, and that’s what I really loved.

As a rule, the second book in dystopian series seems to be the one where the ‘couple’ are either separated or working out their own problems, which gives them time to develop on their own. And as much as I love Ruby and Liam, I absolutely adored Ruby’s characterisation. I could actually see how she’s transformed but not so entirely that there was no trace of the girl she’d once been. For me, at least, Ruby’s conflict with herself is all about control—over her thoughts, her feelings, her powers—and the way that developed was amazing.

I really, really loved the Vida and Ruby dynamic (I’m reading the third book, In The Afterlight, right now and I’m actually on the verge of tears about this). Liam and Ruby were as adorable as ever. And I have to commend Alexandra Bracken for entirely skipping the unbearable romantic angst—I’ll admit there was some angst, but not too much to handle.

Basically, read it. It’s so, so good. Alexandra Bracken is some kind of mastermind.

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