Skyhunter by Marie Lu
"But conquering people is easy. You break past their defenses, seize their cities, burn their world to the ground. To annihilate us, though, is impossible. A seed will survive. I am not done. I will survive."
I devoured this book, well, the audio anyway (which was EXCELLENT). Marie Lu's science fiction/dystopian exploration of a civilization long after we've effectively destroyed everything is fascinating and frightening. Tarin is a refugee from Basea, an outsider in the country she and her mom fled to when the Karensa Federation attacked. It left her mom sick and Tarin unable to speak. But her silence is a skill that comes in handy- she's a Striker, and they only communicate through sign language. Strikers are the elite soldiers in Mara; she's trained since she came there but only because a boy named Corian asked if they could make an exception since refugees are not meant to succeed in Mara. And now that boy is dead at the hands of the ghosts, the Federation's weapon of choice. These ghosts are never explicitly described as zombies, but that is essentially what they are. They are one-time humans who've been altered to become killers. The Federation's scientists' nefarious skills are as notorious as is their Premier, Constantine. His ceasefire with Mara is coming to an end, and Tarin and the other Strikers are on alert. When a spy from the Federation is brought into Mara to be executed, to her surprise, Tarin begs for his life. She can see the despair in his eyes, and something tells her he's already given up, but why? Red, as the traitor is called, is hiding something, and she's going to figure out what. When Constantine comes looking for him and unleashes his ghosts, his true identity is revealed. Red is a Skyhunter- a killing machine the Federation built, and Constantine wants his weapon back now. Take a peek back at the cover and it will make more sense ;).
As with most Lu novels, her world-building is powerful. This world, set 5000 years in the future, is bleak. There are mentions of the ancient world through the characters, most notably the technology. One would think that this far in the future, the tech would be at levels we couldn't even comprehend, but it's clear that this society is one that suffered a major downfall, and the rebuilding is slow. Regardless of how advanced I think they should be, the Federation is doing just fine in the area of wholly messed up tech. Their strategy is to threaten to kill your family if you don't succumb to experiments, which is why they have so many bodies within their control. Hence all the ghosts. And, as with a YA dystopian, it's up to the young people of the world to make this all better. There are some major gasp-worthy scenes toward the end of the first book, and once again, I find myself waiting impatiently for the next one.