Young Adult - Sci-Fi
Kindle Edition
Reviewed on 04/24/2023
Buy on Amazon

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Free Book Program, which is open to all readers and is completely free. The author will provide you with a free copy of their book in exchange for an honest review. You and the author will discuss what sites you will post your review to and what kind of copy of the book you would like to receive (eBook, PDF, Word, paperback, etc.). To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Review Exchange Program, which is open to all authors and is completely free. Simply put, you agree to provide an honest review an author's book in exchange for the author doing the same for you. What sites your reviews are posted on (B&N, Amazon, etc.) and whether you send digital (eBook, PDF, Word, etc.) or hard copies of your books to each other for review is up to you. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email, and be sure to describe your book or include a link to your Readers' Favorite review page or Amazon page.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Donation Program, which was created to help nonprofit and charitable organizations (schools, libraries, convalescent homes, soldier donation programs, etc.) by providing them with free books and to help authors garner more exposure for their work. This author is willing to donate free copies of their book in exchange for reviews (if circumstances allow) and the knowledge that their book is being read and enjoyed. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email. Be sure to tell the author who you are, what organization you are with, how many books you need, how they will be used, and the number of reviews, if any, you would be able to provide.

Author Biography

Leia Barko is the author of the critically acclaimed YA sci-fi thriller Ruffian, the first book in the Ruffian trilogy.

She was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and spent her early years traveling throughout the United States before settling in Clearwater, Florida, where she currently resides with her family and dog.

She began writing at a young age and was an avid reader. Barko started writing Ruffian at 13 and published it at age 15. She will attend 11th grade at St Petersburg Collegiate High School in the fall of 2023.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Ruffian is a work in the science fiction, action, and political thriller subgenres by Leia Barko. It is intended for the young adult audience but can also be enjoyed by adult readers. In this dark and gritty work of science fiction, we find ourselves watching the coming together of two unlikely allies in a quest to bring down the source of a dangerous pandemic. Astra Hal is a Ruffian, a secret society member sent to track down the true source of the problem when the young Hendric Sanjor’s political family is accused. The two find compatible differences, making them a powerful team to weave through the web of secrets and lies and discover the ugly truth.

Leia Barko has crafted a sophisticated and exciting work of suspense with a lot of high-concept science fiction, and it pays off to form an accomplished YA novel that will stand the test of time. I loved the unique premise, and there is a clear and detailed dedication to worldbuilding, from the intricate political systems of the global world powers through to the Ruffians and what they do to preserve order when humanity loses control of itself. In addition, the dynamic between Hendric and Astra is superb, with sharp dialogue and apparent, distinct personality clashes that work beautifully for the atmosphere but also the progression of the plot, and their bond. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Ruffian to fans of hard sci-fi that is accessible to both YA and adult readers.

Pikasho Deka

Ruffian is a young adult dystopian thriller by Leia Barko. Seven years ago, Astra Hal was recruited by the powerful Sigma, an AI created to keep a check on humanity's destructive behaviors, and trained as a member of its highly elite team of Ruffians. When a deadly pandemic causes havoc in the world, the representative of the European Union, Morena Sanjor, is charged with concocting the plan to manufacture and release the virus. After Astra is assigned to investigate the Sanjor family, she unwittingly finds herself embroiled in a deeper conspiracy alongside Morena's son, Hendric. But what shocks Astra to her core is that to find the truth, she must go up against members of her organization. With her entire life turned upside down, will Astra be able to find the one pulling the strings?

Ruffian is a gripping first entry to what promises to be a riveting dystopian series. Leia Barko knocks it out of the park with a fast-paced and action-packed debut novel that is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page. The story is set in a futuristic dystopia where the world is ruled by a single united government consisting of nine factions who never hesitate to use insidious attacks against each other at every possible opportunity. Barko's captivating plot keeps pulling the rug from under your feet. It is complemented by compelling character work, making it an absolute blast. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't recommend it highly enough.

Olga Markova

Ruffian by Leia Barko is a marvelous sci-fi action thriller set in the future. Ten-year-old Astra Hal lives with her alcoholic mother in a rat-infested flat in an impoverished industrial district of London. A mysterious lady visits her home and takes Astra to the top-secret training facility for gifted children to train as a Ruffian, a member of the covert organization designed to be humanity’s last resort in a global crisis. Seven years pass, and a lethal pandemic wreaks havoc on earth. The European representative of the United Republic of Global Welfare, the world’s ruling body, is accused of conspiracy to spread the lethal virus. Astra, a highly skilled Ruffian, is called upon to unravel the truth behind these scandalous accusations.

Ruffian by Leia Barko gripped me with the first sentence and captivated me until its most unexpected breathtaking climax. Leia Barko’s easy-to-read, atmospheric, philosophical, and suspenseful writing style made me feel as if I were watching a film, with the extra advantage of the space and opportunity to use my imagination to visualize the scenes depicted in the story. I liked the skillfully crafted plot, with all my questions answered and all loose ends tied up in Ruffian’s astounding ending. The characters designed by Barko are multifaceted and complex and enhance the suspense and mystery, making it an entertaining read. I highly recommend it to young and young-at-heart fans of mystery, fantasy, action thrillers, and sci-fi.

Jamie Michele

Ruffian by Leia Barko is a young adult science fiction novel set on a futuristic version of Earth and revolving around a pandemic that brings two teenagers together. It is the first book in a trilogy. The novel begins with a child named Astra being removed from her home, having been deemed worthy by the pinnacle of central intelligence, an agency called Sigma. She is trained and educated to a spectacular degree, and her skillset is put to the test when a lethal pandemic is unleashed and all arrows appear to point to a politician named Morena who, ironically, wears serious brass for the United Republic of Global Welfare. Astra is meant to investigate Morena but doesn't quite find what was expected. Morena's son, Hendric, forges an alliance with Astra and the snowball of a plot starts making serious turns. There is real danger beyond the pandemic and it is not going to let Astra and Hendric stand in the way.

I love that the title Ruffian is what Astra is, as an extract of the Ruffian Army, and the play on words by author Leia Barko is awesome. Better still, this novel has some fine female power brokers and it is so refreshing that Astra is smart and strong, and is this way not just because she was trained to be, but because she was proven to be to even receive the Sigma training; and the training is hardcore. I got very nervous when a powerful woman, Morena, looked like she was going to be thrown under a flying bus for the sake of a plot, and I admit to some fist-pumping when this wasn't entirely the case. Strong women being run down by authors is bad, but strong women who suffer attempts to run them down by a societal machine? Now we have a story. There isn't a shred of palpable chemistry between Astra and Hendric until we are shoulder-deep in the plot, and it comes strongly at a point where I had already pegged them as ultra-friends with a brother-sister closeness vibe. I could have done without the switcheroo but, hopefully, as the trilogy continues, and some ancillary rom-drama gets sussed out, it grows on us. The greatest sign of an engrossing novel is the commitment a reader makes to continue on with it, and if you ask me if I'm in for the long game...Astra-friggin'-lutely.

Alma Boucher

Ruffian by Leia Barko is about a secret organization created by artificial intelligence (AI) Sigma. Astra Hal is recruited by Sigma to become a Ruffian, humanity’s last hope in case everything else fails. An unknown virus escalated into a global crisis, and it originated in a Venezuelan town. The virus cannot be prevented or cured, and it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Morena Sanjor is suspected of starting the pandemic to gain political advantage. Sanjor will be investigated to establish her involvement in creating the virus, and Astra Hal will be sent to London to conduct the investigation. During a function held by Sanjor, Astra meets Sanjor's son, Hendric. Astra and Hendric join forces to find the truth when it becomes clear that the accusation is false.

Leia Barko planned and executed an intriguing and exciting plot. Ruffian was a rollercoaster ride of secrets, betrayal, and hope. Barko created a solid and sinister world that was controlled by Sigma, and I was immersed. It was captivating, and I was hooked from the start. I just turned the pages as fast as I could, and I could not put the book down. It was easy to become part of every event and experience Astra encountered. The characters were unique and authentic. They were dynamic, and each had a distinct background. With all the twists and turns, I never knew what would happen next. The unexpected ending of the story added to its success. I would recommend Ruffian to fans of science fiction.

Manasa HR

Leia Barko is a YA dystopian author. Ruffian is her debut novel and in-fact debut series. This is the first book in this trilogy.

The main characters are Astra & Hendric who are paired by unusual circumstances. Astra is part of secret organization trained for combat and assassinative missions. On the other hand, Hendric is a nobleman with his own set of talents. These guys are forced to solve a mystery which unravels to be a gigantic mountain of unanswerable questions. Ofcourse, they get help in strange ways. The technology and politics of this book is amazing. Love Astra’s headstrongness throughout the book.

As soon as you see a mystery genre, the general stroryline is – Something happens, few people are related to it and they are thrown in to solve the mystery. Finally a conclusion with major twists. But how well you can play in this setting is what defines a unique book. This book beats me to it! Initially I thought the same general tendency and started reading and started guessing as well. But I was mortified when book beat me each and every time. It has a lot of twists that are in unexpected places and gives a different perspective.
I am pleased by how the story is carried forward. Leia has an exquisite taste for combat scenes. I could actually picture the scenarios in-front of me. Language and choice of words is very good and easily graspable. The perfect foundation for her upcoming works.

On the whole, this is a worthy read and you can fly through it. This book is for anyone who loves mystery, thrilling combats, slight politics and for anyone who wants a good and satisfying read. Can’t wait for upcoming books in this series.

A. Claire Everward

Intriguing, unique and mysterious. I enjoyed the characters, the story and the way it was told. I love the combination of humor and action in books and the author absolutely knew what to do. The build up was also interesting and the ending was quite fascinating. If you need a book for a holiday or for an evening at home – highly recommended.


At 1st I was like oh great a COVID like book, but I was so so wrong. This book has humor, action, twist and turns. If you like Hunger games, Divergent or Maze Runner then you will love this book. Go check it out.

Jeanette Joseph

This book grabbed me right from the beginning and was very hard to put down. For anyone that likes science fiction don’t miss reading this novel!

Bridget Ball

The Ruffians- trained fighters sworn to keep the world at peace and ward off evil-doers- have adopted Astra Hal into their realm as one of their own. She is a loyal and inquisitive member that often contemplates what really defines evil. Hendric Sanjor is the son of a European ally who's mother has been accused of releasing a dangerous virus into the world. His mission is to clear his mother's name. Together, Astra and Hendric battle the bad guys and uncover secrets and lies in this futuristic setting.
This book was a wonderful adventure with lots of political distrust that eerily mirrors our own world. Fans of Nick Iuppa will enjoy this novel and relate to the government and political aspects and sci-fi elements. This is great sci-fi read for couples- women will stay for the romance and men will fall in love with the gadgets. Great for a book club or to take on a trip!

C.M. Jr.

Another great story from an indy author! The story starts out with a "kids from different sides of the tracks" backdrop, and they quickly fall in league with each other. I like the banter between Astra and Hendric especially in the beginning of the novel, although it morphs as their relationship changes. It is a fast-paced read that allows you to quickly churn through the pages. All in all a good read!


Astra Hal was adopted into the Ruffians as a child, an organisation that serves the artificial intelligence Sigma. The ruffians are elite fighters, trained to perform in all kinds of dangerous situations. Their mission? To keep the world in a peaceful state and rid society of bad guys. Over the course of the book, Astra grapples with the idea of truth and what makes a “bad guy”. Astra is passionate, fierce and loyal.

Hendric Sanjor is the dutiful son of the European representative, who has just been accused of releasing a lethal virus into the world. He is smart, observant and willing to do anything to clear his mother’s name.

When Astra and Hendric meet, they become caught up in an expansive web of lies, politics and betrayal. Can they prove that Hendric’s mother is innocent? Or will they uncover an even deeper plot, one that threatens to destroy the world they know?

This book was a fantastic adventure in a world that scarily doesn’t seem so different from ours. Though set in the future with gliders and fancy gadgets, the petty politics and distrust is true enough in todays world. There is action galore, gun fights, hand to hand combat, snipers, bombs and high speed chases. However, the action is perfectly complimented by the plot which is a difficult balance to achieve. I was kept guessing to the end, and really enjoyed all the plot twists along the way.

Overall, I think it was fantastically clever and devious and I will definitely be picking up a copy of the sequel!!

Andrew Bell

A brilliant sci-fi thriller that does not fail to grab the reader. The imagery is fantastic, and I could not help liking the dialogue.

Sophie Jupillat Posey

This book is a compact, riveting read. From start to finish there is always something happening. The pacing is perfect; there wasn’t anywhere in the book where a scene was boring. The twists and turns in the plot are never anticipated. The characters were mostly well-fleshed out and their rapport with each other was believable. It was especially enjoyable watching Astra and Hendric’s love/hate relationship develop into something more. Astra herself is a remarkable heroine: she is smart, resourceful, beautiful, and empathetic. However, she has her flaws as well, and Hendric does a good job working with her to tame those flaws. She does the same back to him. All the other characters including Gemini were characters I cared for. My only quibble is that the dialogue at times felt much the same; when alternating from Astra to Hendric’s point of view, the style remained exactly the same. I also would have liked to see more of Astra’s upbringing in the Ruffian base and her link with Gemini. Otherwise, this is a gripping story with solid characters and a tight plot.

Michelle Marshall

This is an astounding debut novel from this young author, who is a similar age to her own heroine. Leia has blurred the lines between real life events and a sci-fi setting to create a captivating combination. Featuring a global pandemic, one can't help but relate it to recent world events, but this book focuses more upon finding the facts behind the fictional outbreak, rather than lingering too long on the devastating effects of the disease. This is a slick and sleek spy thriller that will appeal to both teen and adult fans of that genre and also tick all the right boxes for those who love their novels dark and dystopian.

Tim Marshall

A young adult work set in a dystopian near-future, Ruffian is full of political intrigue. The first-person present-tense narration gives the novel an engaging feel, shifting easily between punchy shot-by-shot action and well-worded prose. The fact that the novel was written by a high school student makes this solid offering all the more impressive, and I look forward to seeing where this author goes in the future.

Kirsty McKay

This YA Dystopian Sci-Fi Adventure is a must read for all fans of the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. Astra, as the main protagonist, is a relatable and likeable female lead who discovers more about herself and her abilities when she is taken from her home to join the Ruffians. She quickly forms a strong alliance and bond with her fellow Ruffians, but once her training is completed, she discovers that all is not what it seems, and starts to question who she can trust. As a debut novel this is a solid introduction to the apocalyptic world that the Author has created. The pace moves at lightening speed keeping the audience gripped from the first page to the last, and thrusts the reader forward into the action and suspense. The characters are in the main well developed, the dialogue satisfactory, although there are opportunities for the author to enhance both further, and perhaps introduce more scenes of Astra's life growing up in the Ruffian base. Overall this is an entertaining read and I am looking forward to seeing how the Author takes the story forward in her next book.

Jason Newman

Astra is a child living with her mum in not the greatest of conditions and her mum lives by the bottle.

One day a mysterious woman comes for Astra and takes her away. She has been chosen by Sigma, a top secret agency. The book then skips to Astra's adolescence as she's trained in Sigma's academy to be an assassin.

Soon she meets Hendric, the son of Morena, a powerful leader of the United Republic of Global Welfare. Morena is essential to the plot when a pandemic breaks out. Not only is the source of the virus a big mystery that needs to be solved, but Morena has been charged with releasing the virus in what is believe to be a power grab. Can Astra and Hendric solve the mystery of who's responsible and who framed Morena?

I enjoyed this book it's a proper sci-fi adventure with plenty of plot twists and I could really relate
to the characters. I would definitely recommend it.


This was such a brilliant read...


I really liked the characters and the struggles they dealt with indivially but all come together to make the story be filled with information and no empty spaces. So many unquestionable life styles and what they are asked to do for a living. After making a decision that will drawl each character into a decision that is wrong in society, but right in their minds, each character is pulled into a whole new world of major moral decisions and dealing with the political world they are thrown in.

I really enjoyed the style of writing of Leia Barko. So many details were placed within the books that you didn't feel lost, you were drawn into the storyline and felt as you are another character in the story.
Looking forward to more books from Leia Barko!

Fred Jones

An intriguing story with great world building, interesting characters, an entertaining plot with plenty of action and a great twist. I really liked this book. Astra is a ruffian, taken and trained as a child to protect the world. When one of the ruling council is accused of engineering a pandemic Astra is sent to investigate. The books moves with a good fast pace, with lots of set piece action, a global conspiracy, devious politicians, a little touch of romance and an open ending ready for a sequel. Highly recommended reading.

Chris Zuccarelli

Ruffian is an engaging dystopian/action novel with plenty of twists and turns to keep you invested the whole way through. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor interlaced between tense action sequences and, to my surprise, plenty of bittersweet, pensive moments of character study. The plot and storytelling reminded me of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. I especially enjoyed the ending, which brought some shocking truths to light and offered a message I wasn't expecting to hear. If you're looking for an intriguing YA read, I recommend this book!

Eryn McConnell

A gripping action story that starts strongly and continues at a breakneck pace.

Denis Roubien

This is a well-written, fast-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining book, combining suspense and science fiction. It is a dystopian futuristic mystery novel, although it gives the reader very often the feeling the action takes place in our present world. The characters are likable and interesting, a fact that many books of this genre lack. It is a book that makes you want to read further until it is finished...lovers of the genre will certainly not be disappointed.

Syl Sebastian

Interesting and fun read. The main character a teenage agent/assassin deals with what she's prepared and unprepared for with equal energy and passion. Much happens and the story moves quickly, all told in a quaint maybe slightly quirky style, especially in some vocabulary usage which keeps things interesting indeed. Different and surprising.


Astra is a ruffian. She was taken from her home at age 10 and trained to protect the world. Morena Sanjor is the European representative of the United Republic of Global Welfare. She is accused of releasing a deadly disease in an attempt to gain more power. Astra is sent to investigate if there is any truth to these claims. Morena’s son, Hendric wants to be involved in this investigation.

I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was really cool. The world building was also done really well as only subtle changes from our world were used, making it easily understandable. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the writing after the first chapter as it didn’t seem like the usual style I read but I settled into it pretty soon after that. I liked the amount of action in this book. There was always a lot happening. There were also some small scenes of romance which gave the characters more personality but weren’t over the top. The plot lost me a little at one point as there was a major plot with the disease and a major plot with the ruffians happening at the same time. I couldn’t quite tell which plot we were making progress with at some points. This was probably more on me than the book though and everything was brought together nicely in the end. The ending left plenty of room for a second book so I’d be interested in seeing where the story goes from here. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s enjoyed anything like the darkest minds series or the shatter me series. This has a very similar feel.


Set in the middle of a pandemic in a futuristic society. I was a little nervous about reading a pandemic but that is not really the focus, it’s who started it. The investigation, mystery, and drama ensue. I enjoyed the main characters, the strong female lead was dynamic and complicated.

While the writing at times was a bit overly descriptive, the fight scenes and dialogue were well written and full of emotion. This was a good read, very fast, and would be appropriate for YA. If you are a fan of Maze Runner, Hunger Games and American War will like this book.

Zach Larson

Ruffian takes the premise of 'Persons Unknown' and combines it with a noir detective feel in a tech fueled dystopian future. The disparity between classes is apparent from the very first page. Unlike many of the books and movies with AI lately, the artificial intelligence, Sigma, in this book is more of an overseeing presence in the background until the end. Ruffian focuses instead on the human characters and how they analyze the clues of a global conspiracy. Science Fiction and Detective Story fans will both enjoy this book.


Intriguing, unique and mysterious. I enjoyed the characters, the story and the way it was told. I love the combination of humor and action in books and the author absolutely knew what to do. The build up was also interesting and the ending was quite fascinating. If you need a book for a holiday or for an evening at home – highly recommended.

Kayla Grace

Ok going into this book I was a little skeptical because I didn't know if this book was going to be a total flop. I mean it's about a virus that's killing people (cough.... seems a little familiar) and everything's under lock down. Boy, was I wrong lol!!! This is what I mean when a say I want to read a fantasy book!! I will use this book as a guideline from now on for every other fantasy book. Plot/My Thoughts On The Book Astra is a soldier in the ruffgian army I guess you could say it's more of a program where they train children how to fight, fly planes and stuff, then they gradate at 16 and begin going on missions. Astra is sent on a mission to investigate a politician who was accused of creating the virus (that is causing the global pandemic) and letting it lose on the world to gain power. Little did she know that she was heading straight into a whole mess of lies and deception. Hendric is the politician's son (yes, the same politician who Astra is investing) he obviously thinks his mom is being wrongly accused, so being the gentlemen he is… He decides to help Astra with the investigation (I know a little weird right but trust me there's a good reason why he does it). Well not to spoil anything but they discover that this is a lot bigger then they thought it was and need backup. So Astra calls in her three trusty friends to help her. If you want to find out what happens read the book. It's totally worth it! Is it just me or is Verman a little sus, all I'm going to say is I called it first BETRAYAL!... This book is in duo POV which is my fav!! You really get to see their personality and feel more connected to the character. There is a little romance, in my opinion not enough. Because I'm a sucker for a good romance in the middle of chaos. I would say the only thing wrong with the book was the romance unforcenitly for me it just felt sudden like there's no feelings between them and then their kissing. I don't know I just like a slow burn, a lot of built-up feelings and then letting it all out into the open. But that's just me (a 17-year-old year girl who lives for romance). But I can say for all you out there who don't love romance as much as I do or just want to read a fantasy book with a little heat this is for you. All in all a lovely book and I really hope there will be a second! Because I would love to jump back into that world again! Age Ratting 13 and up (only because there is mention of drug use)