Itchingham Lofte has recovered from the radiation poisoning brought on by element 126. The rocks in question, which contain enough radioactive power to solve the energy crisis or create powerful nuclear weapons, are safely hidden. With an MI5 team protecting Itch, and the information he keeps secret, it isn’t long until enemies old and new come calling, looking for the world-changing new element.
The best way to bring the first part of a series to an end is to leave your audience wanting more without resorting to cheap cliff-hangers. That’s exactly what Simon Mayo managed with Itch, his debut novel which made something brilliantly exciting out of an unlikely subject. To recap, the teenage protagonist, Itch, an element hunter and chemistry geek, came into the possession of several rocks that turned out to be examples of a new highly radioactive element. To prevent them falling into the wrong hands, and at great personal risk, he managed to hide them very effectively. One loose end; Itch would have died of radiation poisoning if not for the mystery individual who rescued him. Now with everyone from governments to gangsters and former science teachers willing to stop at nothing to learn what he knows, Itch needs round the clock protection.
Itch Rocks hits many of the same beats as the first book; it’s all about the radioactive rocks and the attempts of various parties to gain possession of them. After some enjoyable and engaging early chapters describing how Itch’s life has changed since his recovery, the old routine of likeable teens struggling against unscrupulous adults kicks into gear and once again it’s a breeze. Joining the returning Dr Nathaniel Flowerdew among the villains is his former colleague, the ruthless Shivvi Tan Fook. Working as a free agent, her attempts to infiltrate Itch’s confidence and efforts to recover the rocks drive the plot forwards for most of the book and she proves every bit as interesting and hissable as Flowerdew.
As before the extent of research on show is formidable and the way science is used for important plot points is both convincing and interesting. Itch again puts his elemental expertise to good use and fun is had with various items in his collection including caesium and tellurium. It’s another gripping book, full of incident and stuffed with kidnappings, devious plots, and injuries described in grisly detail and will hold your attention from start to finish. It’s not perfect; the motivation behind one character’s vicious attack on another, which turns out to be quite an important plot point, seems thin, and there is a sense of déjà vu in a few places but when you’re reading something this captivating these are easily forgiven.
Picking up where the previous book left off, Itch Rocks again builds a fascinating adventure around an unintuitive subject with an attention-grabbing and immediate writing style and some very vivid characters.