In Review: Velocity

Buckle up for one heck of a read.

Velocity by Chris Wooding

Published by Scholastic on February 28, 2017. Jacketed hardcover of 336 pages at $18.99. Intended for ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up. Also available as an ebook.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: In an image created by Kako and designed by Christopher Stengel, protagonists Cassica and Shiara are at the top: the former holding her helmet and the latter holding a gun. The title of the novel diagonally crosses the center in red with the author’s name in black just below it. The bottom of the image is dominated by Maisie, the car that Shiara built from scratch and the vehicle that Cassica drove to win the Ragrattle Caves race. The image wraps around to the backside which shows two other cars that Maisie is competing against. In the sky are two cameras filming the race for the audience at home, while three computer screens in green show scenes that occurred prior to the race. This captures the flavor of Mad Max, but with enough technology to show that not everything is completely wiped out in this future. Very, very cool cover. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Cassica and Shiara are best friends. They couldn’t be more different, but their differences work to their advantage — especially when they’re racing. Cassica is fearless and decisive, making her the perfect driver for daring, photo-finish victories. Shiara is fiercely intelligent, able to build cars out of scrap and formulate gutsy strategies from the passenger’s seat. Now they’ve set their sights on the Widowmaker: the biggest, deadliest race of the year, a three-day off-road rally through bombed-out cities and a pass to a life of luxury and fame. The losers, more often than not, die in fiery explosions. And even if Cassica and Shiara survive to cross the finish line, their friendship might be roadkill along the way.” This sums up my expectations given the jacket illustration. I admit to be in the minority that didn’t care for the latest Mad Max film, nor am I a fan of racing, professionally or in film. I’m hoping there’s something for me to grasp on to in this novel. Overall grade: B-

The characters: Cassica Hayle is a no-nonsense young woman who wants to win. She’s always felt the need to compete and her instincts more time than not are correct in making split second decisions during a race. This is what I expected from her, but author Wooding imbues her with much more: she has a temper when confronted with an obstacle. Her temperament isn’t just anger, she also wants a boyfriend. She wants that comfort in her life. A boy at home has caught her eye, but fellow competitor Kyren Bane, a bad boy, is everything that she could want in a romance. Her stepsister is Shiara DuCal, an extremely talented mechanic who rides with Cassica during each race to assist her in choices and make any repairs while on the track. She is much more quiet than Cassica, but she is not a weak character. As the book progresses she finds her voice and expresses her concerns to Shiara, which she know will upset her. She knows she’ll never be the famous of the pair when it comes to racing, and she’s fine with that, but she is aware her contributions are just as important as Cassica’s to the race. She, too, finds love, perhaps, in Sammis Rye, but he’s a competing mechanic; can he be trusted? Helping and being a little more than mysterious is manager Harlan Massini who reminds me of Sam Elliott. When he approaches the girls to help them ascend the racing circuit he says all the right words, but could he be hiding something from them? The thought of distrust radiates from every character the girls encounter, because they’re not used to how things work outside of their own city, so Harlan, Kyren, Sammis, and several others have the reader on his or her toes wondering if each individual can be trusted, and rightly so. I liked the wide variety of characters that Wooding creates and he has each have a specific point of view, which might go against with what the reader believes, but is wholly honest. I was completely taken with these characters and what they thought and said. This was the book’s strongest point. Overall grade: A+ 

The settings: The future after a massive war has created a Mad Max/Hunger Games Society. Coppermouth is a desert community that doesn’t see any of the dreamy Olympus or its inhabitants. It’s the typical George Miller setting, but the book doesn’t linger there for long. After the opening Ragrattle Cave race, the book moves to the more cosmopolitan Anchor City, with words about the pros and cons of Olympus, the city that one can only remain in if one is popular. This location is never visited, but when it’s mentioned its every detail is savored and detested by the characters and reader. The Widowmaker is a three day race taking place in Crookback Bayou, Lost Angeles, and the Blight Lands. One with a general knowledge of the United States can recognize what each of these locations used to be and each contains its own unique obstacles. I enjoyed the Bayou, Lost Angeles was the rote post-apocalyptic environment, but the Blight Lands had some neat new elements to discover. With the exception of Coppermouth and L.A., the settings were refreshing. Overall grade: B 

The action: There’s not much surprising in the races. The book is intended for young readers and they haven’t encountered many of the troubles that come during the race. Their parents will discover much that’s similar to the said Mad Max films, as well as Death Race 2000 and Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races. There are some fun moments, to be sure, but it’s been done before, such as the search for a missing partner in L.A. Overall grade: B

The conclusion: This was an exceptional ending. There was something more important than winning the race and it’s hinted at, discussed again once more, and then becomes an option in the end. I was impressed with it and that Wooding has one chapter after “it” occurs, which was the perfect coda. A masterful ending. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Strong characters and cars in deadly races in a post-apocalyptic world covers some mature moral ground while being extremely entertaining. Buckle up for one heck of a read. Overall grade: A-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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