Without reading Stray, the first book in the Touchstone Trilogy, the following review may not make much sense and will likely spoil some of its developments!Lab Rat One improves on its predecessor, Stray, and is my favorite of the Touchstone Trilogy. While most sequels falter by failing to raise the stakes set up in the first volume, Lab Rat One builds upon its foundation. Cass’s friendships with the Setari strengthen, the crumbling of the spaces make the Ena more dangerous, and Cass’s minor romantic desire develops into deep infatuation. Even the themes are extended; resource degradation, environmental destruction, privacy regulations, and internet surveillance were explored in Stray, but here Höst focuses on them further with the anxieties over settling Muina and the uproar over the newly biographical spin of “The Hidden War,” a previously fictional TV show about the Setari (though IMO the characters’ reactions to this plot line were overblown and the plot descended into the nonsensical as it continued).Whether Lab Rat One will work for you, though, depends on your opinion of Ruuel, the tortured Fourth Squad Setari captain that Cass started to lightly crush on in Stray. Because it is written in diary format, we see Cass’s obsession with Ruuel firsthand. Like any 18 year old recording her private thoughts, Cass pours her soul out into this diary, discussing the minutiae of her day with a particular emphasis on her interactions with the super-hot Ruuel (which, of course, barely amount to anything besides a simple acknowledgement of her existence). So, teenage angst abound! but as a reward, we do see Höst writing from a refreshingly female gaze about Ruuel, a perspective that is altogether lacking in literature. For me, Lab Rat One was successful because I cared enough about Ruuel that I was mostly willing to read through Cass’s endless musings about him. That said, I don’t find him to be a perfect love interest. He’s mysterious and kind but his curtness makes him almost cardboard. For all of Cass’s incessant lust, I barely knew a thing about him, though I think enigmatic may have been the intention and most of his appeal. Having read Caszandra, the final volume, it is definitely most of the appeal. Once we know Ruuel as Karoen, he’s boring and average. I want to find an author who can take a secretive, closed archetypal love interest and have him get together with the protagonist without destroying what made him mysterious.However, just as Lab Rat One betters the successes of Stray, it also falls prey to the same weaknesses. Again, there are no considerable plot happenings, and the world-building, while great, remains unexplored. At the end of Stray I was so excited to learn about Muina’s mythology, but aside from a few archaeological sites (which were awesome!), we didn’t discover anything new and concrete about the Lantarens. I continue to be confused about the specifics of the spaces, Ionoth, and the talents. In particular, I don’t understand the full capabilities of Sight Sight talents and seeing as Ruuel, the omnipresent love interest, has this talent, elucidation would have been useful. An additional problem is the capability of Cass. In my review of Stray, I remarked that I enjoyed Cass’s character because she was a bit of an everygirl. She wasn’t a Chosen One (though she does accrue some unique individual powers in this installment), meaning she was relatable. This same strength is a weakness when Cass’s relative averageness prevents her from taking initiative. I wanted her to ask questions, demand KOTIS to stop making her go to medical, and try to figure out her problems alone, but alas, she was out her element and didn’t achieve anything individually. It’s a fine balance between a pathetic, useless character and an omnipotent superhero, and I think Höst was a bit too conservative here. Indeed, my favorite scene of the entire series is in Lab Rat One when Cass finally must face the Cruzatch and find her way out the platforms alone. Her ability to handle herself when necessary is a highlight of the series, and I wish we could’ve seen this a few more times. Still, Lab Rat One is a wonderful sequel, and the ending…well, I’ve never been more thankful that I could download Caszandra immediately from Amazon. Similar to: the film Inception. Cass’s developing talents and Ruuel’s advice on how to control them reminded me a lot of Inception.