Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book review: Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky #3) by Veronica Rossi

Spoilers for the previous two books in the trilogy will follow in this Goodreads description:

"The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do—and they are just as determined to stay together.

Within the confines of a cave they're using as a makeshift refuge, they struggle to reconcile their people, Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their hatred of their desperate situation. Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. Then Roar arrives in a grief-stricken fury, endangering all with his need for revenge.

Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission. Cinder isn't just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival--he's also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most."

In the third book of the Under the Never Sky trilogy, you get a rescue mission, a new world, an uprising, and a few other YA dystopian tropes that, despite being somewhat cliched, play out well, with suspense, intrigue, and catharsis.

The first portion of this book did drag, and I was concerned that I would be delving into yet another final book in a trilogy that was rushed and could have benefited from tighter plotting and editing. With so much ground to cover and loose threads to address, I felt a lot less time could have been spent in the first caper. Aria and Perr's rescue team, in an attempt to rescue Cinder from Sable's compound, are captured, and then they escape and are re-captured about 4-5 times before they finally escape for good. Building suspense is fine, and a foiled plan A is to be expected, but the seemingly endless failed attempts were unnecessary after a point and I just desperately wanted to move on to the next issue.

Fortunately, for me, the book did pick up after the team plus Cinder return to home base. The story takes a nice breath in the middle of the action to reconnect several of the characters and build some emotional stakes for the reader going into the climax of the conflict. Overall, I was satisfied with the way the conclusion played out. The showdown between Perry and Sable itself was a bit of a letdown for reasons that I might not be able to explain without getting into spoilers, but because the way it ended was inevitable anyway I wasn't disappointed in a way that detracted from the rest.

At the end of my review for Under the Never Sky, I said, "So do I recommend this book? Sure. If you're not already predisposed to give this genre a try, it probably won't change your mind, but even if you're like me and think you're kind of over it, you may find yourself relieved as I was that this wasn't too high of a concept to swallow." I stick by that initial assessment after rounding out the trilogy. If you're a fan of the genre, it's a fun and well-enough-written series with an ending that is thankfully NOT problematic and disappointing, so each of the books are actually worth reading.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book review: Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky #2) by Veronica Rossi

Plot summary from Goodreads below. Beware spoilers for the first book in the series.

"It's been months since Aria learned of her mother's death.

Months since Perry became Blood Lord of the Tides, and months since Aria last saw him.

Now Aria and Perry are about to be reunited. It's a moment they've been longing for with countless expectations. And it's a moment that lives up to all of them. At least, at first.

Then it slips away. The Tides don't take kindly to former Dwellers like Aria. And the tribe is swirling out of Perry's control. With the Aether storms worsening every day, the only remaining hope for peace and safety is the Still Blue. But does this haven truly exist?

Threatened by false friends and powerful temptations, Aria and Perry wonder, Can their love survive through the ever night?"

Under the Never Sky introduced us to Aria, Perry, and a handful of secondary characters. It detailed the world that these characters live in, and established that there is, if not a full-on conflict, a lack of respect between Dwellers (the people who live in the pods) and Outsiders. In Through the Ever Night, we delve further into the psyches of our two leads, and get to spend more time getting to know some of the secondaries. This second book in the series also sets the stage for what will prove to be the true conflict: humans vs. humans.

It's frequently suggested that underneath all of the conceptual pageantry, dystopian novels aim to explore issues that are relevant to present circumstances or to ostensible future circumstances. These books are all about the division of resources: land, food, weaponry, technology -- who gets it and who doesn't? The pods had limited geographical space, so the number of the population who lived inside was regulated. Within, they were about to provide infinite necessary resources. Outside, everything is limited and getting worse as the Aether scorches more and more land and renders it un-useable. On a lark that there is another tribe leader who knows of a place called the Still Blue, where there is no Aether in the sky, Aria and her friend Roar (as Perry is occupied leading his tribe) venture to speak with said tribe leader, Sable. Suffice it to say that their meeting with Sable begins the impetus for upending the previous societal structure of Dwellers sequestered in their pods and tenuous peace between the tribes. There's a lot of backstory I'm glossing over, but I want to build on what I mentioned in my last review regarding Rossi handling the dystopian/post-apocalyptic human element in a realistic way. Her thesis in Under the Never Sky seems to be that humans have a survival instinct, and that manifests in some groups differently than others. Some will choose to create a new environment that mimics how they were previously comfortable, and some will adapt to their new surroundings. In Through the Ever Night, though the environment grows increasingly ominous, I appreciated the transition to human conflict and how the story is now more and more exploring the tension between groups that have evolved completely different lifestyles based on those survival instincts. This is exactly what we experience, on a far less dramatic scale, every day.

So far, these are two strong books that I have enjoyed a lot. They aren't perfect, but any issues I've had have been overshadowed by the tight plotting and solid characterization.

Book review: Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky #1) by Veronica Rossi

Goodreads: "Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland--known as The Death Shop--are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild--a savage--and her only hope of staying alive. 

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile--everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky."

I started this book with trepidation. The YA dystopian stuff hasn't really been grabbing me lately, and they often seem to tread on the same themes, tell more than they show, and exalt the importance main characters without really providing contextual evidence of why said characters are actually so awesome.

For the first hundred or so pages, I was annoyed at Under the Never Sky. I described it aloud as "stupid" when asked how I was liking it. It seemed to do little to separate itself from the endless pack of dystopian YA trilogies (because yes, it's a trilogy. Why have one of these books when you could have three?) But then, something changed. For one thing, Rossi's two leads, Aria and Perry, are good characters with great chemistry. They're still not particularly unique for the genre in terms of the archetypes they embody, but they're well-rounded and charismatic, and the respect and appreciation between them that grows into romance seems genuine and exciting.

The main thing that I realized over the course of reading that helped me grow to appreciate the book was that it wasn't based on some kind of far-fetched human societal thought experiment. Like how in the Divergent trilogy, society divided itself into factions based on personality types, or in the Matched trilogy, the Society picks your partner for you, or in an even further continuation of that, in Delirium, where love is a disease and everyone has to receive a cure. I thought Under the Never Sky was going in that direction, when it started in a pod where everyone wears the same color gray, has little to no experience with illness or physical distress, and spends the majority of their time in virtual Realms accessed through "Smarteye" patches (think Google Glass but bionic.)

The book wasted no time in doing away with that environment though, to my relief. Almost immediately, Aria is cast into the Outside, and the book transitions into more of a post-apocalyptic survival story than a "Evil Government" story. And although the reasoning behind the apocalypse is only loosely explained -- sudden rapid shifts in the Earth's polarity resulted in a substance called Aether infiltrating the atmosphere, and said substance causes random, catastrophic electrical storms that appear almost like tornadoes -- the "dystopian" aspect of having groups of people living in pods becomes very easily explained. It's harsh, of course, that only some people made it into the pods while others were left outside, but as a reader, I appreciated that there was a logical, necessary origin of the dystopia. 

As this is a trilogy, this, the first book, basically sets up the situation and character relationships. That doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of action, or that it's a lot of wasted exposition, because after my initial lukewarm reaction to the book, I actually devoured it once it picked up with Aria on the Outside. I was surprised at how much I ended up liking it, in fact, and started immediately on the sequel once I finished. So do I recommend this book? Sure. If you're not already predisposed to give this genre a try, it probably won't change your mind, but even if you're like me and think you're kind of over it, you may find yourself relieved as I was that this wasn't too high of a concept to swallow ("Something happened to the sky and now we have to survive" as opposed to "When you turn 16 the government turns you pretty".)