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by Gordon Korman
After a serious betrayal from one of their former friends, the clones of Project Osiris are on the run again. Now separated into pairs, Eli and Tori and Amber and Malik are fighting to survive in the real world.
Amber and Malik track down the one person they think can help them prove the existence of Project Osiris, the notorious mob boss Gus Alabaster, also known as Malik’s DNA donor. But as Malik gets pulled into the criminal world—tantalized by hints of a real family—his actions put him and Amber in greater danger.
Eli and Tori get sucked into even bigger conspiracies as they hunt down Project Osiris’s most closely guarded secrets—including the question of who Eli’s DNA comes from? With a surprising new ally and another cross-country adventure, the four will have to work together to overcome the worst parts of themselves if they are going to end Project Osiris once and for all.
Payback, the fast-paced final installment in the Mastermind Series, shows what happened to all the other Osiris clones. The beginning of the book focuses on Malik, Tori, Amber, and Eli. Malik and Amber spend time with the criminal that Malik was cloned from; until Malik finally realizes that he is not the same as the criminal who shares his DNA. On the other hand, Eli makes a surprising discovery about the person he was cloned from.
While Payback has several surprising twists, some of the plot is redundant and the events don’t shed much light on the characters. Despite this, there is enough action and suspense to keep readers interested. However, because of the backstory, readers must read the Mastermind books in order in order to enjoy Payback.
The books’ narrative repeatedly talks about how the characters were excellent at criminal behavior because their DNA came from criminal masterminds. However, the conclusion contradicts these statements by claiming that the characters’ DNA does not determine their behavior. The conclusion also leaves many questions unanswered, which may frustrate readers. Instead of having a solid conclusion, the book ends without tying up all of the plot threads.
One surprising aspect of the Masterminds Series is the unexpected pockets of humor. Even though the characters are often in danger and running from their enemies, readers will find themselves laughing out loud because of the characters’ interactions. While the series has some flaws, the unique premise, the interesting characters, and the plot twists will keep readers turning the pages. Readers looking for another fast-paced adventure should add the Wizard for Hire Series by Obert Skye to their reading list.
- While helping someone load groceries into their car, someone tries to nab Tori. Tori “reaches into the grocery bag, pulls out a glass jar of pickles, and swings it at her attacker, catching him full in the face. He staggers back, dazed, his sunglasses askew.” Tori is able to escape.
- Amber begins working at a soup kitchen. A police officer comes in looking for a man who is eating there. When the policeman shoves the man, Amber gets angry. “The big tray of mashed potatoes is in my hands before I even realize what I’m doing. I heave it over the plastic sneeze guard, raining the entire load down on the advancing cop.” Then she runs away.
- Eli thinks he is a clone of the Crossword Killer who killed nine people. “The lives he took were not in pursuit of any goal, regardless of how horrible or lawless. He killed for the sake of killing.”
- Someone binds Tori to a chair. Eli tries to fight her attackers. “I pick up the nearest object—a floor lamp—and swing it at them. . . The bigger one grabs it and hauls me in like a fish on a line . . . Powerful arms imprison me, and soon I find myself duct-taped too, my arms locked behind my back.”
- An adult tells Eli and his friends about a younger brother that went to jail for “petty theft. He was killed by another inmate.”
- While the kids were trying to steal a boat, a fisherman tries to stop them. “. . . A metal toolbox swings up and around, catching him on the side of the head with a sickening thunk. He drops like a stone. . .”
- Malik tries to get Robbie, another Osiris clone, to go with him. Robbie refuses, and Malik tries to “tackle him and hold him underwater for a few seconds. . . I pull him, choking and gasping, out of the drink.” Robbie freaks out and “he pounds his fists against my [Malik] chest and face.”
- The Purples try to nab the kids. As the Purples get closer “the metal pole of a large beach umbrella swings out of nowhere, catching the two Purples full in the face. Both men drop to the beach, unconscious.”
- C.J. Rackoff also tries to stop the kids, but Malik rams “his head full force into Rackoff’s jaw.”
- Eli’s “father” points a pistol at him. Right before he is about to shoot, “Hector slams into my one-time father from the side, jarring his gun arm. With a sharp crack, the shot goes off.” The bullet hits a huge aquarium, and a rush of water and fish come pouring out. Afterward, “the ginormous manta ray [takes] up half the lobby floor. That’s when I notice a pair of feet sticking out from under it.”
- During the struggle, Hector is injured. “Hammerstrom’s [Eli’s father’s] bullet must have grazed him, because he’s got an angry red line stretching from the corner of his mouth to his left ear.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- The kids worry that Dr. Bruder from Project Osiris will give them a drug. Dr. Bruder has “fancy pills designed to make us kids forget things Osiris doesn’t want us to remember.”
- There is minimal name calling, such as idiot, jerk, morons, nitwit, slimeball, doofus, loser, and bonehead.
- Both “oh my God” and “OMG” are used as an exclamation one time.
- While trying to steal clothes, Tori sneaks onto a balcony. On an adjacent balcony a woman comes out and Tori prays “that the woman goes back inside before it occurs to her to glance to the right.”
- Eli’s father tries to kill him. When he’s uninjured, one of the adults says, “thank God!”