Script Kiddie (Assured Destruction #2) - Michael F. Stewart

[I was sent a copy by the author, as part of my being approved by NetGalley to review book #3, in exchange for an honest opinion. While there was no condition involving writing a review for this one, I still decided to do it.]

I read Assured Destruction in 2013, and really liked it, though much to my shame, I failed to keep track of when the next installments were published. This second volume I found just as enjoyable as the first one, mainly for similar reasons. With each chapter, I wanted to know what was coming next.

After her stint in book 1, Jan, the main character, is still in dire straits, having to balance school, the store, her mother's illness, Peter's arrival in their lives, her new relationship with Jonny, and the many hours of community service she owes to the police. Sure, she can stil somewhat rely on Shadownet to vent out, but mostly she's now confronted to more than she can chew, and frustration's building up.

Characters & plot:

I like Jan. As a character, she has a lot of potential, some of which she lives up to, and some that still leaves room for improvement. She's far from perfect; she commits mistakes; sometimes she's too proud for her own good and doesn't realise what she's getting herself into until it's too late. I guess her fatal flaw would be hubris, combined to her problems to cope with the more social aspects of life. She fancies herself a hacker, but is soon brought back to reality. She imagines her community service as an open door to be acknowledged as part of the police, but of course reality is harsher, and soon she's reminded she's still just a kid in many ways (don't expect cop drama here, and a teenager being propelled as star of the detective show—which wouldn't be too believable anyway). Her eagerness and overconfidence when it comes to computers/networks land her in trouble.

However, she also tries to fix things and help. When she's humbled by people who know more than her (and who knows everything at 16!), she accepts her shortcomings and strive to get better. She also shows a lot of courage, involving herself in person—not because she's too stupid to live (although her mistakes could get her killed), but because she genuinely wants to save other people, while knowing that waiting isn't an option.

I also appreciated how her relationship with Jonny was portrayed, because it's light on the romance part. The events of the book unfold on roughly one week, and Jan is very busy... so busy that she can't keep up with having a boyfriend and doing "what it takes" to keep him. Now, considering what happens, I found this understandable. She's worried about her role regarding the police, about missing school, about being wrongly accused of hacking, about her mother whose health isn't great... I can understand that. I can understand a person being unable to keep up, and I think I would have held it against Jan if she had put everything to the back of her mind to be with Jonny all the time and play lovey-dovey, the way it happens too often. I can't say she always knows how to keep her priorities straight (the carding case is a good example), but that part fits with her personality.

Last but not least, what's going on with Peter is intriguing. On the one hand, I can understand Jan's wariness when it comes to this man: he's new in their lives, and with all the problems the store is facing, of course Jan is going to think he's up to something. Overall, he's sweet, caring, understanding, he tries to help her, as if he was doing his best to get her to accept him... Too good to be true? Perhaps he's just that: a man who loves her mother and wants to earn his place in the daughter's life as well (fast, considering how bad Tina's health is). Or perhaps he's something else. Or more than simply that.

The tech:

 

I already liked the computer/tech aspect in the previous book, and I still like it here. What happens in Script Kiddy is actually good lessons for teenagers (and for anyone not internet-savvy, for that matter), but not presented as such. They're integrated within the flow of the story, while dealing with real problems: phishing, how wireless devices can be a downfall, internet predators, and so on.

The way procedures and technology in general are described is also easy to understand. Well, it's easy for me, as I know enough (though I'm certainly not a specialist), but I think anyone would understand what's going on. Some things made me frown at first, and think "why is this explained?"; but not everyone knows what IRC is, after all.

Problem?

A few things bothered me; not enough to prevent me from enjoying the story, but I still feel I should mention them. The murderer's laptop was one of them: would the police really hand evidence to Jan, let her take it out of the precinct? This I found unbelievable (and considering what happens with it next, it should've tipped her off). Also, at times Jan felt just a tad bit immature when it came to the problems in her life, mainly her mother. On the other hand, I can also envision her as the kind of girl who would cope by shutting off and/or focusing on different things for a while, so I'm not completely sure I can chalk that to sheer immaturity, or to the kind of slightly neurotic persona she seems to be developing. There's just so much going on that at some point, the girl's doomed to break.

Those put aside, this second novel in the series was really a page-turner, and a good read for me.