Book Review – Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

The blurb threatens:

Fear the Corn.

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It’s the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow—and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables. But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it. When Cael and his crew discover a secret, illegal garden, he knows it’s time to make his own luck…even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

When I started this book I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that this was a Young Adult book, so it took me a while to realize that the main character was a teenager.  Eventually it was spelled out, but it caused me some confusion for the first chapter or so – unless otherwise stated we tend to assume a character is like ourselves

The book exhibits some of the problems that I have with YA books but it’s a lot less egregious than examples like The Hunger Games.  The amount of adolescent whining was fairly low, as were the counts of easily avoidable misunderstandings.  The obligatory love triangle was a lot better set up than in other YA books I’ve read, and it had some unexpected twists to go along with the obvious ones.

I’ve read some of the Miriam Black1 and Mookie Pearl2 series by the same author and I really liked them, so I think any of the problems I had with this book were just because I’m not the intended audience.

The retro-futurism in the book was interesting – technology has progressed to the point where they have anti-gravity, but buttons on control panels are made of Bakelite, which we stopped using 60 years ago.

The book’s obvious theme is the struggle between the future and the past/modern and rustic/natural and artificial.  What annoyed me a bit is that (at least in the first book) this is presented unambiguously one-sidedly – the rich people with the high tech are evil and the poor downtrodden farmers are good.  Real life is never anywhere near that simple, and the politics strike me as gratingly backwards looking – “gosh, wasn’t everything better when we all had Polio”.

Apart from major plot points left dangling at the end of the book, there were also entire characters and events that were referred to but not actually used for anything (a la Hunger Games), presumably set up for the sequels.  It didn’t annoy me too much because going into it I knew this was a trilogy so I was expecting it.

I think my biggest problem with the book is that although the start and the end of the book are exciting, it gets pretty boring in the middle.  Not a lot happens other than reiterating things we already know, for example that life sucks for the downtrodden farmers.

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