This is the second of the books in the six pack that I wrote about earlier. Elle Casey is one of the wunderkind of self publishing, up there with Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey as a breakthrough success, but I don't think this is one of her best known books (or series).
The story begins in a typical high school setting, where sassy bad girl rebel Jayne is widely disliked, by everyone from teachers to her classmates, and even her mother barely registers her existence. Her only friend in the world is geek Tony, and soon the pair run away and hook up with a group of other young runaways in a squat in the city. In an effort to earn some money, the entire crew signs up for an "experiment", only to find themselves in a very foreign environment and told "the only rule is, there are no rules". And they are not alone.
To be honest, it's not in my opinion one of her best books either. If I had to sum it up in the "X meets X" elevator pitch format, I'd probably blurt out "Valiant (Holly Black) meets Hunger Games". We have the runaways, with potential (there are hints early in the book that none of them are completely normal) sent on a mission in a hostile environment and apparently being picked off one by one.
On the bright side, the characterization is good, as is the dialogue - I can actually believe people might say most of this, there's no Mr Exposition characters. There's no info dumping, or POV switching, and the story builds to a climax steadily. The fae presence is understated and implied initially, and slowly grows with the rest of the story, in a way easing both the characters (sort of, considering they are fighting their way through an enchanted forest!) and the reader into it.
Not so successful (for me): A really hard cliffhanger that comes almost out of nowhere. While the smaller conflict of "the experiment", but at the last minute we're introduced to the larger conspiracy, a whole lot of new players, and our heroes are given a choice. And then it ends. I know that's pretty typical of YA series, but it makes me insane - I think these should be marketed as serials, not series or trilogies, but that's a personal peeve.
In the end, this is well written enough to make me want to check out more of the author, but I'm not sure I'll bother with more of this particular series.