On her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive. The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people?
Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, Cass finds herself processed as a 'stray', a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.
Lab Rat One:
Test subject was not the career path Cass had been planning.
With no privacy, too-frequent injuries, and the painful knowledge that she must always be an assignment to her Setari companions, Cass can only wish for some semblance of normality and control. And as her abilities become more and more dangerous, tests and training may be the only thing capable of protecting Cass from herself.
Cassandra Devlin doesn’t know what she's for, but she knows she's running out of time. Space is tearing itself apart. Ionoth attack in ever-greater numbers. And "the useful stray" has been injured so many times that the Tarens hesitate to use her for fear of losing her.
With one particular Taren now her most important person, Cass is determined to contribute everything she can - and hopes to find some answers of her own.
My Take for the series as a whole:
I just finished rereading the series for the second time. The first time there were several typos and style choices that bugged me about the series, but not enough that I quit. In fact, after the first free book, I paid for the other two because I had to find out how it ended. I enjoyed the second read through even more because I could skip the annoying parts (which I didn't find as annoying this time and didn't even skip).
This series follows a girls straight out of high school, though a worm hole of sorts, and into a completely new world where she has to learn to survive. She goes from being a Stray (someone who wonders through the Ena, to a Lab Rat (her form of coping), to finally finding herself, a cause, and a new home and family.
My main complaint about the series is that Cassandra knew an awful lot about things that most 17-18 year olds wouldn't (heck I don't know them and watching documentaries is a favorite pastime of mine). The character names also piled up to confuse me at times. Everyone has two like we do, but you rarely see them together to connect first names to last names, not even when new characters are introduced. And there are a lot of characters. However, the second read through was easier to put formal names together with the given names used when off-duty.
The world building is complex and imaginative, if a bit disjointed at times. It is young adult, so there's plenty of angst, but I become giddy with Cassandra's need to find connections to her new world by relating them to several fandoms. They aren't more than a sentence, and highly entertaining without trying to pull from those franchises. I just love her general geekiness. Here's one of my favorite quotes following the moment she decides to stop actively searching for a way home and help fix the tears in the universe.
"I blame Doctor Who. Mr. Spock. The Scooby Gang: both the ones in the Mystery Machine and the ones with the stakes. I've spent my life with stories of people who don't walk away, who go back for their friends, who make that last stand. I've been brainwashed by Samwise Gamgee."
And finally, in spite of some technical writing issues (which I think were intentional style choices because it's written as a journal), there are moments that I just connected with on a deep emotional level. There's a lot of telling, but then you'll get a scene that just grabs your heart. For instance, at the end of book two, Ruuel and Cassandra finally give in to the romance side of the book. You have to read the first two books to get all the ways this is such a big scene (all the complications and paranormal and political reasons they shouldn't, and so on), but it's one of those moments I just "get".
Ruuel tells her she needs to be certain she wants "this" meaning a relationship with him. Her answer is a beautiful example of love and trust, not just lust.
"What is certain? Haven't even ever really talked. Only know that every day, first I know on waking, is that you're not there. I hate it when you're not there."
*Le sigh* There is awesome sci-fi stuff, super powers, scary creatures traveling through near space and tears in the walls to reach real space, secret agendas, and people doing the best they can to be "super space ninjas" as Cass calls them, and romance!
So, it's easy to say that this has gone in to my multiple read piles. I know I'll visit Tare and Muina again many more times.
I give the series as a whole a 4.5 because it was good enough that I had to read it again, and I know I'll read it in the future as well. This is a world I can live in and enjoy the journey over and over.
I have to give it an R rating because it uses the F-bomb, but sex is mostly innuendo/PG 13.