The concept of certain people having special powers is one that has played out a myriad of ways in comic books, movies, TV programs, and fiction. Author Alexandra Bracken put her own spin on the idea in The Darkest Minds series, where children of a certain age are susceptible to a disease that either kills them or, for the ones who survive, leaves them with one of a handful of unique powers, ranging from the ability to manipulate electricity to mind control. Having a bunch of pre-teens running around with these abilities is understandably terrifying to the government, and in Bracken’s dystopian America, children with abilities are either killed or taken to horrifying “rehabilitation” camps where they can be carefully monitored to prevent them doing anything dangerous.
What follows is my review of the second book of The Darkest Minds series, Never Fade. There will be mild spoilers for the first book, and I would absolutely recommend reading The Darkest Minds before tackling Never Fade. While Bracken does include some catch-up tidbits from the first book, they work better as a memory jog for people who have read the first book as opposed to a detailed description for new readers.
Never Fade picks up with our mind-controlling heroine, Ruby, as she executes missions for the Children’s League. While Ruby doesn’t necessarily agree with the ideology of the Children’s League, she hopes to use her association with the League as a means to eventually end the ghastly treatment of children in rehabilitation camps. The League’s training program has helped her refine her ability and learn to take care of herself in a fight, which comes in handy when Ruby is asked to take part in a special mission which could help expose the cause and potential cure for the disease that ravaged the country’s children and provide Ruby with leverage to free the children imprisoned in rehab camps.
This book is full of plot twists and turns; there is not much I can say that doesn’t spoil something. While I enjoyed The Darkest Minds, the modest pacing meant it did take me a while to get in to the story. Bracken steps it up with Never Fade, however, keeping the story incredibly fast-paced with tons of action and suspense. The flow of the story is very natural and even, and while there were definitely times when I thought, Can’t Ruby catch a break for just a minute?!, it was effective because I was riveted to see what happened next.
Another thing that made Never Fade feel like a step up for me was Ruby’s character growth. In this book, Ruby gains strength and confidence and becomes a much more robust character. I understood her motivations; I had an idea how and why she might behave a certain way in a situation, and her behavior felt more specific to her unique personality. Simply being able to get a grasp on Ruby as a character made it easier to connect to the story, and I felt a much stronger emotional investment in Never Fade overall.
There are a lot of elements that play into the overarching plot – not only is there the issue of the kids with powers, but the political upheaval that happened in response, and the crumbling of American society that came along with it. There are a handful of different groups and organizations with different motivations, and sometimes it is hard to keep up with who’s who and what their stake is in the situation. Fortunately Bracken does a great job of providing background details for things that are important to the plot progression at any given time without muddying it with details that, while relevant to the plot overall, aren’t necessarily relevant to the reader’s understanding of what’s happening right now. It’s a tough balance to strike in such a layered world.
For fans of the first book, Never Fade is absolutely a must read. Bracken handles the first book’s cliffhanger beautifully and satisfied all my burning questions without sacrificing the integrity of the story or an ounce of suspense. And, of course, new revelations set up the final book in the series, but Never Fade still has a fulfilling ending despite the tease of excitement to come.
As far as YA dystopian books go, Never Fade definitely brings the goods with its intense pacing and continuous thrills, but it also has a very important human element. The characters and the relationships between them are what enable them to fight for what they believe in. The world Ruby lives in is bleak, but the people around her keep her from losing hope. Even though there is plenty of action to keep you turning the pages, it’s the beautifully nuanced friendships and displays of loyalty that really make Never Fade stand out.