Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Under the Empyrean Sky


Book Title: Under the Empyrean Sky
Author: Chuck Wendig
Series: The Heartland Trilogy #1
Date Started: July 4th 2015
Date Completed: July 8th 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Romance, Adventure
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Four stars

◆ Thanks to NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

I enjoyed myself a lot more than I had expected reading Under the Empyrean Sky. Though the overall story becomes a bit typical we end on a slightly different foot and I can see a good path twisting towards the next books. On it's own I was disappointed, but the sheer amount of fun I had reading makes me want to rate it higher.

There's a lot of slang in both the dialogue and third person narrative in this book. At times it becomes a little too much, and definitely near the beginning it makes the world confusing - however as you get to know the characters more it fits a lot better and ends up enhancing the scenes.
Having said that, a lot of the book is dependant on the personalities of the characters and their reactions to certain situations. I think this is done really well, but I am a bit dubious over the fact that the story is so dependant the characters instead of the plot itself.

Under the Empyrean Sky had a really strong start. Within the first few pages I was hooked on the action; it was definitely a good idea to begin with the 'gang's' rivalries. I wish this had been featured a lot more past this beginning because it was so exciting and unique, especially in a dystopian landscape that isn't particularly distinguishable from most. The world-building near the start is also really good as it introduces all the aspects of the setting and gradually explains what they are in the everyday life of these characters. This definitely starts becoming thinner the further into the story you get, and I feel like more consistency would have exaggerated the threat and danger, especially towards the climax. I understand that as more action happens within the story the world-building does essentially become less interesting, but it's so important to keep it going to get a strong, believable landscape.
I feel like the idea of the Empyrean was made to be, in some respects, quite realistic. The population of this world are allowed to live only off commercial corn that seems to come alive and attack the characters (literally), while the upper class lives in some sort of floating sci-fi castle. There was confusion for me around just exactly what this corn was, if it was actually living or just dangerous etc, but the way it came across was scarily believable: I really can imagine these sorts of constraints on people to make them. Admittedly, this 'living corn' did come off as quite comical at times and so ruined the atmosphere. I also felt like the threat of the Empyrean itself got a bit confused with the danger of the town's Mayor: who was supposed to be the main antagonist, and who were the characters actually threatened by? It didn't exactly feel like two parts of a greater danger, as much as both faceless threats that the characters didn't like. The constant changing of power positions also didn't help this - however I really enjoyed the exploration in the differences between moral power and actual power and which eventually won over.
I liked the ending of this book, but it's very heavily leading onto the next book and gives very few answers or resolutions for this particular story. I don't like it when books can't stand on their own two feet, even if they are feeding into a bigger story, and so this really irritated me. But, like I said, I had a lot of fun reading this book so I'm quite interested to see how the story continues.

The story wouldn't be much if it wasn't for the characters: they're the ones keeping the pace up the whole way, and their entertaining and curse-filled dialogue is what kept my interest consistent.
I liked Cael enough, though at times I did feel he was a bit stupid and predictable. Again, near the beginning I was starting to really love him, but as soon as something didn't happen as he'd have liked he kind of gave up and got very moany - this wouldn't have been quite as irritating if everyone around him wasn't moving on. In comparison to them, Cael came off a bit selfish and lazy.
Gwennie was a character I wasn't sure about through the whole book. On the one hand, she's a strong female who will do whatever she has to to keep going - but at the same time I couldn't help but feel she was one dimensional in favour of the romance plot compared to the boys.
Rigo and Lane were great side characters, and I loved the emphasis on their inclusion. Sidekicks are often sidelined and given their own smaller stories besides the main one, but Wendig was sure to include them in the main storyline and make them important. Looking back I'm not entirely sure I can tell their personalities apart, which is a shame, but I still appreciate the attention to smaller characters.

As a lot of the plot is based on action and adventure-mystery-solving, the pacing is nice and fast throughout the story. There are times when I felt the characters were acting stupidly, or a certain scene wasn't interesting, but generally everything moved on fast enough for it not to matter too much in the long run. This did of course mean that the scenes I was really enjoying were short lived, but for the sake of the plot line I understand why Wendig chose to keep up the speed.

Under the Empyrean Sky may not be that unique from a lot of dystopians out there at the moment, it does have the bonus of a witty and entertaining handful of characters, and the odd new idea. Half way between sci-fi and dystopian, if you want a quick, enjoyable read about a barren society with a few young, hopeful people who are trying to make the best of it and just happen to end up ruining it all, then this is the book for you.

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