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Children of Icarus


Children of Icarus

Human-like creatures, leathery skin black as night, with wings instead of arms; 20-foot worms, no eyes but with gaping mouths full of razor sharp teeth; monsters who work in packs of three, who pull their prey apart in three different directions; sea serpents, giant and poisonous scorpions, and a mysterious woman --- more a legend, really --- nicknamed “the Executioner.” These are all realities for the characters of CHILDREN OF ICARUS, a wonderfully crafted novel by Caighlan Smith.

Yearly, the town of Daedelum --- where people live in towers, their entire lives conducted primarily in these towers, from grocery shopping to school to regular living --- sends a group of children into the labyrinth. All for the right --- the honor --- to become angels, all according to the legend of Icarus, who ascended to paradise after successfully navigating the labyrinth himself. Our protagonist, along with her best friend, is sent into the labyrinth along with a small band of other children from Daedelum: only to learn, quickly and violently, that the stories and promises they had been told all their lives were lies. Now, our protagonist must navigate the labyrinth, aided only by the exhausted survivors of years’ past (whom call themselves Icarii) and her own survival instincts. In a world of false promises and monsters literally at every corner, our protagonist learns quickly that the only person she can trust --- truly trust --- is herself.

"Every action is written with careful, aching precision, to the point that the reader feels they are watching a movie….I truly cannot recommend [CHILDREN OF ICARUS] more highly or more passionately."

ICARUS was, easily, the best book I have read in 2016. I would venture to say that it is the best “dystopian” novel I have read, ever; to compare it to the Hunger Games trilogy does ICARUS a disservice. The closest comparison I can think of THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers, but even that comparison falls short. CHILDREN OF ICARUS is a very physical novel --- every action is written with careful, aching precision, to the point that the reader feels they are watching a movie --- or, maybe, that they are actually experiencing what is happening in the book. My favorite aspect of the novel, however, was that our protagonist was never given a true name; she goes by Clara and then, later, by Nameless, but her true name is never revealed to the reader, which only serves to heighten the sense that the reader is experiencing the events of the novel. As a reader with a deep passion for Greek mythology, I personally adored the references to real mythological creatures that were peppered throughout the novel and especially the new twist to the old Icarus tale.

This book was, at times, grotesque. It was frightening. It was masterfully crafted. It is certainly a piece of YA fiction, but I would caution parents of middle grade readers, suggesting that perhaps they read the book first to decide for themselves whether it is suitable material for their child. It is more than appropriate for high school age and struggling readers, however, so long as they accept that despite the book being billed as “dystopian” literature, it is also very closely aligned with “horror” and even, to an extent, “science fiction.” The book also does not wrap up nicely: nothing is resolved and our protagonist is left alone, but with fierce determination to survive and escape.

I truly cannot recommend this novel more highly or more passionately. Every sentence was well crafted, each twist surprising, each moment more horrifying than the one before. Bravo to Ms. Smith, and I look forward to reading more of her works (and shoving this book on everyone I know).

Reviewed by Adrian Meyers on August 15, 2016

Children of Icarus
by Caighlan Smith