Judge Book 2

The struggles of a group of students, each with a supposed sin in their past and so trapped in a murder game, continue here with another death and more exploration of the group’s circumstances.

As set up in the previous book, there’s an attempt to outwit the manipulator, but it quickly fails — since it depends on a group of strangers in a stressful, life-threatening situation all trusting each other. It’s vaguely charming of our protagonist, Hiro, to believe that it might be possible, but ultimately, it demonstrates his naivete. Moreover, it gets the reader to root for him, in spite of his past poor choices, by showing that he’s got a good heart. Unlike the other characters, he’s thinking of more than just saving his own skin. He’s learned from his lethal history and wants to prevent anything like it from happening again, to anyone.

There’s an underlying theme of individualism vs. the group’s needs. Although Hiro is thinking in terms of the group overall, his pushing for an unusual attempt at a solution makes him stand out, painting a target on his back. Two sub-groups form, each defining their small society as “us vs. them”, typical of human nature. (Since they’re being told to kill or risk dying, the stakes are much greater than the usual peer pressure and shunning.) Much of this volume is about the revelation of whom the group voted to die and the motives behind the choices. Fans of Survivor and similar shows will find the mechanics familiar, particularly once additional information about the outcome is revealed by the unknown manipulator.

We learned the histories of two characters, including Hiro, in the previous book, but little additional background is included here, making many of the players ciphers or paper dolls, symbolic of a quality more than a person. One of the characters notes, “I thought we were finally making some progress… but in the end, we haven’t gotten anywhere.” That’s the risk of this series. I’d like to see events move more quickly than they are currently. For example, I’m curious to find out what makes the horse so angry (wrathful), always jumping to the violent, brutal way to solve a problem. With the time passing — going on the second 12-hour period — and no mention of food, I’m also wondering if these kids are going to starve before they’re rescued or killed. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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