At an undesignated time in the future, huge alien creatures called "pipers" have taken over the world. They destroy metal, machines, and especially robots, carving giant circles in the landscapes with their deadly bubbles. Strata and her two friends live in a caravan with the last remaining pieces of tech. They map the pipers, keeping just ahead of them and preserving anything they can find. On an exploring mission in the hills, Strata finds something amazing; a robot horse named Kleidi. It responds only to her and suddenly she and her robot pony are involved in a deadly chase involving pipers, feral barbarians living in the wasteland, and a shocking discovery of the true nature of the pipers.
Hale's art is in shades of gray and browns, with dull yellow highlighting the remaining pieces of tech. Kleidi shines a bright gold, symbolizing everything humans have lost and Strata's refusal to give up her hope for the future. The characters show an array of browns and tans in their skin color, as well as different textures and styles of hair. Influences from modern civilization can be seen in jewelry and tech as well as much older civilization in the barbarians' Viking-like attire.
This is a complex story, weaving legends of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, post-apocalyptic tropes, and reflections on the nature of humanity and civilization. It's also an action-packed adventure as Strata and Kleidi keep one step ahead of the dreaded pipers. In the end, the story is resolved quickly in a way that left me with more questions; although Strata and Kleidi destroy the monstrous beings behind the pipers, how do they know more won't appear? It seems unbelievable that they were the first to ever discover the secret, although the collapse of civilization would have drastically cut down on communications. Is it really possible for one small caravan of people and handfuls of slow-witted barbarians to truly restore modern civilization? It definitely raises many questions in readers' minds.
Verdict: The art doesn't immediately grab the eye, especially in these days of vibrant color, but with some additional booktalking I think this will make an excellent book club choice and a thought-provoking read. I might recommend it to fans of Doug TenNapel, although it's quite a unique creation.
ISBN: 9781419721281; Published 2017 by Amulet/Abrams; Borrowed from another library in my consortium