CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 24. . . .February 23, 2018
Thread War. (The Skids; 2).
Ian Donald Keeling.
Peterborough, ON: ChiTeen/ChiZine, 2017.
295 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $14.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77148-432-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77148-433-6 (ebook).
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Rob Bittner.
"What's happening?!" Krugar yelled. The panic was back. He tried to step away from the gap, but it followed him, growing wider.
There was a loud, sharp crack that filled the Combine. Oh no, Johnny thought, fear and dismay filling his heart. Not again. Not here. "EVERYONE GRAB EVERYONE ELSE!" Without thinking, he rolled toward Shabaz, his hands coming up, reaching out towards her.
He didn't get to finish. The world roared, the crack split wide open, and the entire Combine fell into the dark.
Thread War is the follow up to The Skids, Keeling's first book in "The Skids" series. This installment opens on Johnny Drop and Shabaz as they try to bring some cooperation and a new sense of order to the Skidsphere where all the Skids—spherical creatures with extendable arms, tank treads, and an ability to change the shape of their external components at will—live and play in the games. When a group of young skids start to question Johnny's methods—the skids aren't supposed to help one another, after all—tensions mount, and Shabaz and Johnny begin to question their place in the universe even more than they had since returning from battling for their lives in the Thread a short while back.
When a bipedal intruder—a soldier by the name of Krugar—shows up in the training facilities, a crack opens in the foundation, spilling Johnny, Shabaz, and hundreds of other Skids into the darkness of the Thread. Stuck with both friends and enemies in the strange landscape, they do their best to work together and survive in the midst of a battle between the legendary Betty Crisp—a level ten Skid who has become corrupted in the Thread—and SecCore, the program responsible for keeping the system running smoothly.
While the overall concept of the novel is intriguing and the narrative pacing is swift, the spherical characters at the heart of the book are unfortunately flat in their character development. As no Skid lives past the age of five, with the exception of Betty Crisp, there is not a lot of opportunity for them to fully develop within the space of the somewhat brief narrative. Johnny is perhaps the only Skid who is developed with more nuance since he has a multi book story arc, but the majority of the secondary characters lack depth in the end. I found the reintroduction to Wobble a welcome part of this installment as he was my favourite character from the first novel, even though he does act, for the most part, as a deus ex machina throughout.
The setting is also somewhat under developed, and readers will likely find themselves having trouble fully immersing themselves into the Thread. As with the first novel, I had trouble understanding the complicated structure of the Thread, and while this may be a purposeful strategy that Keeling employs in order to emphasize the confusion of the characters in his novel, I’m not entirely convinced that this is the case.
In the end, I think this sequel suffers from the same problem that the first in the series had; the book does not seem to have any particular audience in mind. The mixture of made up profanity for some characters and the real world profanity of others, mixed with sexual tension between creatures that are very childlike, makes for a strange combination of elements characteristic of middle grade and young adult literature.
If readers enjoyed the first novel, they will find much to enjoy here as well, but I’m not sure that I would recommend this sequel without a prior knowledge of the characters and series from book one. Tweens and teens with non traditional tastes in relation to sci fi will likely find themselves engaged in the lives and hardships of Johnny Drop and his team of Skids (and, of course, Wobble and Krugar!)
Recommended with Reservations.
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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