By: Jenny Martin
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On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?
I waited so long for this book after I first heard about it way last year, and by the time it was finally released I was so annoyed because I could hardly find any time to actually read it. But when I finally did I was completely captivated by it from beginning to end, and will go on record by saying that the opening of this book (the first 50ish pages) is possibly one of the most exciting and enjoyable openings I’ve read in YEARS. In TRACKED, Phee Van Zant is a highly skilled street racer, and is blackmailed into racing in the circuits under the false identity ‘Pheonix Vanguard’ for the Benroyal Corporation, a company which Phee detests with everything she has. She has to take up a new identity and put on a false act in front of the cameras and her new adoring public, as well as trying to balance her relationships with her closest friend and near-enough brother Bear, and the alluring new teammate Cash.
This book is pitched as Star Wars meets The Fast and the Furious, and while I can definitely see why people could see it as that, I saw it as Fast and Furious meets The Hunger Games more than Star Wars, mainly because there wasn’t a whole deal of actual physical fighting with laser guns or armies fighting against each other and had a dystopian vibe to it. But while it has a dystopian feel, it’s definitely a sci-fi, set on the corporately controlled Castra, which I read as such a high sci-fi planet. The way I pictured it was like a 30th century Times Square, if that makes sense.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t perfect, and there were some things that I had problems with, but in the end it was very good, and very entertaining.
Now, onto the spoiler-y section!
This book definitely reads like a debut novel. It’s filled with so many cool concepts and attempts to do cliche’s in new ways, which are all great, but sometimes seem to lack a final punch. But, in saying that, the punches that they do deliver are more often than not fantastic. I was constantly encouraged to read on, to follow Phee as she learned the secrets of the Benroyal Corp. From beginning to end, TRACKED is action-packed, providing some heart-pounding and unforgettable scenes–such as the first scene when Phee races in the kind of street race she is comfortable with, working seamlessly with Bear to weave her way around the course before she is caught and arrested.
One of the main problems I had with the book was the main character herself. At the beginning I loved reading her narration and her action-packed street racing life. But around the middle of the book when she had settled into her new life as a racer for the Benroyal Corp., she started to develop a really careless, and often mean attitude. She kept pushing Bear away, convincing herself that it was for the best, but not really considering that she could be crushing him by having him with her the whole time while constantly keeping him at arms length. Then she completely destroyed the dress that was made for her in front of the eyes of the woman who spent such a long time creating it, commenting that the dress was ‘ugly’. I mean, come on. I know she was in a difficult place, but that was just rude! However, having said that… it sort of worked. It really built her as a take-no-nonsense character who was willing to do what she wanted because she had to in order to make it through her situation without turning into Benroyal’s wife, who conveniently turned out to be Phee’s mother and James’ twin sister. (All of that seems like it should have been obvious, but I was genuinely waiting for the big reveal to be something like James being Phee’s missing father. The way that it actually unfolded was so much better though!)
The love triangle wasn’t one of my favourite parts; but that’s more of a personal preference than anything else. I’m not big on the idea of the main character having to choose between two possible romances. But both of the love interests were my favourite characters in the book. Bear is such a loyal and fierce friend, right to the very end after Phee breaks his heart yet he is still there for her, and Cash is so intriguing, with more questions about his person asked than answered.
Throughout the novel, I kept thinking of The Hunger Games. Phee’s story sort of resembles Katniss’; she is plucked from obscurity and made into a public spectacle, and has to learn how to act for the cameras and her adoring new fans. I don’t mean that in a bad way, though. In fact, I think that aspect was actually done better in this book. To me, Phee seems to act more naturally in the situation than Katniss did, and the payoff works out a lot better. And on top of that, there’s the element of young-girl-needs-to-lead-revolution-to-take-down-the-empire. Which, to be honest, is fine. It’s done in its own way, rather than some of the carbon-copy Hunger Games novels that I’ve read in the last few years. The villain is strong enough to seem like a realistic person of power, and realistic enough to have known weak-points.
The ending happened all in quite a rush, but the way I read it, the rushed-ness of it worked in favour of the plot. After faking her death in the final race in the book she meets up with Bear and Hank (one of her guards from her apartment in the Spire), and they travel to the rebel hideout. After they get there it’s only a matter of pages before Phee begins to hear voices in her head planning an attack. When she realises it’s an attack on where she and the rest of the rebels are, the rest of the book flashes by. They are attacked, Cash is lost, Bear is shot… then it ends. I really liked that though. I liked how quick everything happened, reflecting what was actually happening. And even though Phee didn’t really take any major steps to taking down the empire, the stage is all set for things to start really happening in the sequel!
TRACKED was definitely a book that I needed to read. It opened up so many possibilities, and while some of them led nowhere, it had me hooked on every chapter. The wait for the sequel, I can tell, is going to be a long one, but when it is eventually published I’m going to be on it on day one. Action packed from the first to final page, I have to recommend this book to anyone. It’s sci-fi, but it’s not hard sci-fi, and it’s a book about car racing that is way more than just car racing, and any flaws that I found in it were easily outweighed by the positives.
So, do yourself a favour: try this book out.