Friday, August 1, 2014

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".)

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