In the Shadow of Ares – Story Synopsis

To kick things off, here’s the description we used for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest entry:

The world was shocked and saddened by the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters.  But after the memorials, recovery efforts, and detailed investigations were over and the hard lessons were learned, we moved on.

But what if a spacecraft and its crew simply vanished, with no explanation?  What if, years later, you had an opportunity to solve the mystery of this disappearance?  And what if someone else knew what happened – and would do anything to stop you?

This is the challenge facing 14-year-old Amber Jacobsen in “Labyrinth of Night”, a mystery set on frontier Mars.  Amber is an interplanetary celebrity: ‘the First Kid on Mars’…and so far, the only one.  Pioneering on Mars is hardly glamorous, though, and Amber secretly wishes she were an ordinary girl living on Earth.

When their homestead is destroyed in an apparent accident, the Jacobsens relocate to a new settlement located on the northern fringes of Noctis Labyrinthus, a vast and largely unexplored network of canyons.  Their new home promises new opportunities, and Amber looks forward to being accepted as a regular member of the community rather than a celebrity.  Instead, the settlers treat her as a burdensome child and not the responsible young adult she is.

In order to prove herself, Amber vows to uncover the fate of the Ares III mission, which vanished near Noctis Labyrinthus.  As she digs into the disappearance, however, she discovers that those who destroyed her family’s homestead want power over the settlement she now calls home — and ultimately the entire planet.  By solving the mystery, she could hand them the tools to destroy a free and prosperous Mars.