The conclusion to Kade's Project Paper Dolls series is an exciting novel that leaves readers engaged.
The Trials opens with Ariane Tucker back at GTX preparing for the trials starting in two days somewhere in the Chicago area. The trials are between three companies, Dr. Jacob's GenTex, Dr. David Laughlin's Laughlin Integrated and Dr. Emerson St. John's Emerson Technology to determine which of the human/alien hybrids created by these companies is the best. The winner will secure a lucrative government contract to create a line of supersoldiers, while the losers will either die in the competition or be destroyed afterwards. Ariane will represent GTX, while Laughlin Integrated will have the communal hybrids, Ford and Carter. Who Emerson Technology will send remains a mystery.
Ariane's friend, Zane Bradshaw is dead, left bleeding out in the parking lot where Ariane was caught between Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Laughlin. Devastated at his loss, Ariane is determined to kill to end the program, destroying all of the hybrids including herself and the scientists who created them. Ariane considers that her true opponent is Ford, who looks like her and is possibly her clone. She feels sadness at the fact that she must kill Ford, who like her, is innocent. "I couldn't let it be Ford. This had to end. Jacobs and Laughlin, they couldn't be allowed to keep using us, taking from us."
While waiting for the trials to begin, Ariane has been honing some of her alien abilities such as controlling various objects at a time and having to deal with Rachel Jacob's constant presence by her glass cell. Rachel reveals to Ariane that Zane's body has never been found and that it never showed up at the hospital. Ariane assumes that either Jacobs or Laughlin covered up his death.
The next day, Ariane discovers that a meeting between all of the competitors has been set up prior to the trials. Dr. Jacobs dresses Ariane in a shirt and jeans from her home where she lived with Mark Tucker, her "father". Ariane is taken to the Manderlay Hotel where Jacobs dresses her in a red, oversized UW-Madison sweatshirt. The trial will consist of tracking and identifying an assigned target. They are to find the target, whose photograph they will be given, confirm the identity and transmit a photo and then await further instructions. They are told the target will be within the city limits for the next forty-eight hours and has no idea that they are being hunted. This revelation surprises Ariane who assumed that they would simply fight one another.
The meeting reveals that Ford and Carter will be part of McLaughlin's team. But the bigger surprise is that Emerson St. John has two entries, a former soldier, Adam, and a special model, Zane Bradshaw. St. John states that his method does not involve growing alien/human hybrids from scratch but enhancing humans with alien genetic material. Ariane is horrified to see that Zane has telekenetic abilities and is able to contact her telepathically to arrange a meeting the following morning.
Unknown the Ariane is that Zane was saved by Dr. St. Emerson, who injected him with a virus designed to deliver and insert alien DNA into his human DNA, thus enhancing him.The DNA-altering virus, RSTS47 healed Zane's bullet wound and internal injuries in a few days and also gave Zane some of the abilities characteristic of the alien DNA. However, unlike Adam, who has been turned into a supersoldier, Zane's body has not been coping well with the virus-altered DNA.
Dr. Emerson, working with Justine from the Department of Homeland Security, hoped to use Zane to be able to get one of the alien/human hybrids that have been created. The Project Paper Dolls had been funded by the Department of Defense but the DHS wanted to use Ariane not as a test subject, but as an expert resource. However, Emerson and Justine do not want Adam to be the prime candidate; instead they believe Zane with his previous relationship with Ariane has the best chance of convincing her to join them. This enrages Adam who only reveals that Zane's "target" is a guy.
Meanwhile, Ariane cannot understand why Zane is involved in the trials and she wonders if Zane is still the boy she knew back at Wingate. She and Jacobs believe that Emerson hopes to distract Ariane by the presence of Zane, allowing Ford to take the lead. Ariane's envelope leads her to believe that the target is a college age girl. Jacobs tells her that her position will be monitored at all times using the GPS in her phone as well as a black triangle that monitors vitals. He also shows Ariane a picture of her mother, who carried her for six months and tells her that if she does not cooperate there might be problems for her.
Ariane meets Zane in the hotel hallway as he requested, allowing him to explain how Emerson saved him with his DNA-carrier virus which he calls NuStasis and to reassure her that he is still the same Zane. He also tells her that They also encounter Ford who wants tells them that Carter has been removed from the trials and will remain safe if Ford wins and she warns Ariane to stay away from the target. Unable to tell her about Justine's offer, Zane arranges an second meeting at an eatery. He arrives to find Justine and Ariane have already met and not in a friendly way.
Justine reveals that she has been working with Dr. St. John for the last seven years and that she's part of the Department of Homeland Security. She tells Ariane that they are interested not in using her as a weapon but as a technical advisor and reveals that the remnants of the Roswell spacecraft are somehow connected to the alien DNA. Justine tells her that in exchange, they are willing to offer Ariane a chance to live a mostly normal life, attending school but having a security team. Ariane refuses Justine's offer believing that instead of freedom she will always be in a cage of her own making. Ariane also knows she has to end the experiments by Laughlin and Jacobs especially when Justine reinterates that this in not her primary concern. In an attempt to convince Ariane, Justine reveals that there are have been further sightings of UFO's clustered near the locations of the alien/human hybrids. The UFO's appear to be similar to the type of craft recovered at Roswell and Justine tells Ariane that they believe they are searching for the source of the living alien tissue. Justine indicates the the DHS believes the Roswell technology has a genetic component - that it is functional if it interacts with the living alien tissue, tissue that makes up part of Ariane.
Once Ariane understands what Justine's group wants she begins to seriously consider her offer, but she is disturbed that the trials will continue for Ford and Carter and the target. However Zane and Ariane discover that everyone has been given different targets. Ariane's target is Adam's sister, while Adam's target is a male. With everyone having different targets this means that this is only the first part of the trial with direct confrontation between each of the surviving candidates likely the second stage. Worried that his mom and Quinn might be part of this, Zane contacts his mother to tell her he is alive and to check if they are fine. His mother is relieved but then threatens that if he doesn't come home she will be forced to act.
When Ariane doesn't fully commit to Justine she becomes aware that Justine intends to force her to come with her. Ariane and Zane manage to escape Justine and her agents in order to discover the real truth about the trials and to stop for once and all, Dr.Jacob and Dr. Laughlin. What they will uncover is far worse than they could have imagined, convincing Ariane that she must take down Jacobs and Laughlin.
The Trials does a great job of wrapping up the Project Paper Dolls series with a believable, satisfying conclusion. Kade maintains suspense through the early part of the story by not revealing the true nature of the trials. Ariane expects that she will have to physically fight the other alien/hybrids however, this is not the case.Instead she learns of a more sinister reality when Zane's mother goes public with the truth about GTX and its role in human experimentation on children. Kade chose a more realistic storyline to conclude her series, adding an air of believability to the ending.
The major revelation near the end of the novel by Laughlin is shocking.
Laughlin reveals the exact procedure that created Ariane - a fertilized
human egg and the alien genetic material. The revelation reveals the
connection between Rachel and Ariane as well as what really happened to
Ariane's biological mother. These revelations only serve to reinforce
Ariane's belief that Laughlin and Ford must be stopped. However, this
sets up a conflict between Ford and Ariane. Ford wants to kill Laughlin,
something Zane tries to talk Ariane out of participating in. Zane knows
that Ariane has fought constantly against using her abilities to harm
others. When she stopped Joseph Zadowski's heart she performed CPR on
him to save him. But he also recognizes that Ariane wants to listen to
Ford. "If she did, it would destroy her. I understood the urge to kill
Jacobs, more so now than ever. But the kind of person Ariane was, it
would break something in her. She was a defender of the weak, the
innocent...Murdering someone in cold blood, even a person she hated,
would end her. She woudn't be able to live without punishing herself.
Ariane, the girl I loved, would disappear beneath waves of misery and
self-loathing." Ariane tries to negotiate with Ford for the lives of
Zane, Rachel and Emerson St. John. However Zane tells her if she
participates in Jacobs and Laughlin's deaths she will never be free of
them and she will become what they have always believed she is - a
weapon. In the end, Ariane's decision is taken away from her by Ford's
actions. It's a tidy finish that sees the true villains get their just desserts, while Ariane and Zane eventually are able to restart their lives.
One of the main themes of this novel is Ariane's struggle to be accepted by humans as a person rather than as a lab specimen or a product, in this case, a weapon to be sold. Ariane must deal with how everyone views her as somehow less than human despite the fact that she has abilities that humans do not. Zane's mother, Mara Bradshaw and Ariane's schoolmate, Rachel Jacobs consider Ariane and the other alien/human hybrids to not be "real" people. This is also Dr. Jacob's opinion too, as he refers to Ariane by her serial number, 107 which is the shortened form of GTX-F-107, effectively dehumanizing her. He doesn't view her as a person who has feelings but more as a robot. This is demonstrated by his having Rachel spend time with Ariane in an attempt to "humanize" her so that she will be more appealing to the government agency seeking his technology. In fact, the alien/hybrids are portrayed as more ethical and empathetic than many of the humans who are seen as grasping for power and money.
Ariane is a strong, ethical character in The Trials, determined to end the research of Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Laughlin even if it means her death while at the same time saving Carter and Ford. Even when she is finally taken away by Justine, Ariane manages to negotiate a deal that works in her favour. Ford redeems herself in this novel, sacrificing her life to make sure that Laughlin's research will never more forward, while Zane too is willing to sacrifice his life to help Ariane - he takes a dangerous experimental virus so as to be able to enter the trials and convince Ariane to take Justine's offer.
Project Paper Dolls is a really good series that will appeal to those who like sci fi and adventure. While The Trials was a good finish to this series, the best book was the middle novel, The Hunt.
The Trials by Stacey Kade
New York: Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group 2015