Trace Evidence is the most recent installment in the very popular young adult series Virals, co-written by the mother and son team Kathy and Brendan Reichs. Kathy Reichs is best known for her fictional forensic anthropology Bones books and television series, and is one of our favorite writers here at PopMythology. We have reviewed a number of her books on the site and her annual literary addition is always one of our most anticipated books of the year.
Trace Evidence is actually our first reviewing experience with the Virals series, however there are five full-length novels already out there for this series. This book is actually a collection of four novellas, the first of which, “Shock,” is a prequel to the series, and so serves as a perfect introduction for newcomers. “Shock” describes the events that conspire to result in Tory Brennan (yes, there is a relation – Tempe Brennan is her great-aunt) coming to live in a remote setting off the coast of South Carolina, Morris Island.
Morris Island is uninhabited except for a coastal ecology research center and a small living complex for the scientists and their families. Tory has come there to live with her Dad who works at the center, and makes friends with the three other teenagers living on the island. The setting is perfect for adventure: beautiful beaches, abandoned civil war forts, and plenty of nature and wildlife. And adventure is what Tory and her squad of friends are all about.
The Reichs’ have also pulled in an element of science-based fiction into the stories. In the series’ first book, Virals, the squad was infected with an experimental virus that heightened some of their abilities, e.g. strength, agility, sense of smell, vision, to animal levels. These enhanced faculties give them advantages for crime solving and forensics in which Tory, an ardent admirer of her aunt Tempe, wants to pursue as a career.
The two central stories, “Shift” and “Swipe” describe two separate, highly enjoyable romps of detective work by the team and are complete standalone stories that do not require familiarity with the rest of the books. “Swipe” was particularly fun, as Tempe is involved in the action and the events that take place at a Comic Con in San Diego, the geek Mecca which we at PopMythology are huge fans of. The final story “Spike” is the only one of the four that might be best read after the rest of the series, as it is somewhat of a combination epilogue and a foreshadowing of things to come. But the small taste of prior series events was so interesting that it only led us to immediately put the rest of the books on our “to-read” list!
As an adult, one of the things I enjoyed about Trace Evidence on a deeper level is the casting of Tory in the leadership role for the team, particularly as the other three are male. It has taken a while for YA adventure books to develop more female heroines and a large number of these operate as individuals or in all-female groups. Not only is Tory the only female of the Virals group, the presentation of her leadership is done very matter-of-factly. The is no long back story of how she came to possess these leadership qualities or how she performed some amazing feat that convinced the boys to elect her despite the fact that she’s a girl. The story is simply that she takes charge because she is good at it. Period. This is a wonderful role model for young readers and is a progressive step up from telling girls that they can “be anything they want to be” (subtext: despite your gender) to simply removing gender entirely from conversations that it has no place in.