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Book Review: Drake and the Fliers By Allison Maruska

What if a deadly virus claimed the adult population and left in its wake chaos, destruction and a group of teens alone in the world to fight for survival? Allison Maruska tackles this intriguing premise in her emotionally gripping, fast paced, imaginative and well-written book Drake and the Fliers.

Drake and the Fliers is a marvelous fictional treasure that spins an enchanting story by examining a dystopian culture. While the sci-fi elements and teen characters will entice the young adult reader (the intended audience), the well-defined plot and pulsating suspense transcend age and is likely to garner mass appeal.  In addition, the mature reader will find him or herself mesmerized by the descriptive excellence and emotional depth portrayed by the story.

The main protagonist is Drake, a sixteen year old whose family was claimed by a virus of unknown origin. Maruska opens her book with her first suspense hook as the reader finds Drake in a precarious situation. A sense of urgency for survival is conveyed from the outset even before the reader becomes fully acquainted with Drake or invested in him as a character. This strategy is risky. Under a less capable writer, such an approach might undermine the plot. But Maruska is clever. Her writing talent comes from her ability to hone in on character motivation. Maruska realizes that the survival instinct is ingrained in the human condition and is universally relatable. We don’t need to know Drake’s backstory. Our query at this juncture is: How would we respond in Drake’s shoes?

Maruska does a marvelous job fleshing out Drake’s character. We sympathize with him and understand his pain in losing his family. His relationship with his sister Kelsey and his parents are revealed through his reflections. But Drake must compartmentalize his grief because survival is the paramount concern; he must adjust to this new normal caused to his world by the virus. The stakes are raised when our protagonist discovers that he is able to shift into a dragon. Initially frightened by this ability, Drake soon learns there are advantages to his new form. Shortly after embracing his shapeshifter ability, Drake meets Preston, a nineteen year old who can shift into a phoenix.

Preston is an incredibly layered character. Maruska rises to the challenge in masterfully writing him. He harbors a secret that alienated him from his family and seemingly feeds his mistrust of people. Consequently, Preston establishes a kinship with animals. Further, he is more comfortable with his animal persona. This fact produces the dramatic tension and foreshadows conflict for his burgeoning friendship with Drake. As the story evolves, Preston emerges as an antihero. The reader will be left to consider whether his choices make him a villain or if redemption is possible.

The supporting characters are other teens with shapeshifter abilities. These teens enrich the narrative. Of particular note is Talon, a teen who becomes very important to both Drake and Preston, but for different reasons. Talon gives Drake hope for the future. But she has her own secrets that add suspense.

Sci-fi brilliance, romance, mystery, survival of the fittest themes and twists and turns elevate Drake and the Fliers as a stellar and memorable work.

Drake and the Fliers succeeds at crossing genre lines. The sci-fi aficionado will adore this book. The lover of romantic yarns will appreciate what Drake and the Fliers has to offer. Finally, the reader who enjoys mysteries and psychological undertones will applaud Maruska’s efforts.

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