*I received this book for free on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
One day while on my lunch break I picked up a copy of [b:Blackbirds Miriam Black 1|12944651|Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)|Chuck Wendig|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1334862930s/12944651.jpg|18101226] on impulse. I thought the author's name looked familiar and then it hit me one day that the writer of the book was also the guy behind one of my favorite blogs.
I breezed through the book in two reading sessions, downloaded more of his books on to my Kindle, and I've been a happy fan ever since. So when I received a free ARC of his latest book, I was very excited to read it.
Trying to figure out how to review it has been a challenge though. So I kept on putting it off. This is always a bad idea but better late than never I guess.
Under the Empyrean Sky is the first book of a YA dystopian series. In this world, the privileged people live up in the sky, while the Heartlanders, the people who live and work for those privileged sky dwellers, live under some pretty bleak conditions. Mutated corn destroys their soil and overall climate. Education has been done away with. Disease and high infant mortality rates are common. Marriages are arranged in a kind of lottery. Every move they make is government controlled. Naturally, said government is corrupt. Beneath the Heartlanders, there are the bums and hobos, living off the grid without homes. They have a bad reputation, because even the Heartlanders need someone to feel superior, too. Like many characters of this story they are not what they seem.
The story focuses on Cael, his family, his two best friends, and the one girl who he loves. Cael and crew work as scavengers, and often end up competing with the shitty mayor's shitty but damaged son. Once Cael realizes there's a way out of the Heartlander life, a way to rebel against the system, him and his friends go together to start their adventure and (one guesses) start a revolution.
Cael is a character who annoys the shit out of me. I have no problem with that, but if I'm going to describe the protagonist, it needs to be said. I don't completely hate him. He's a good egg. But god is he fucking annoying. He takes out his anger at the unfair world around him on others, always with the self-righteous yelling, and doesn't see that him looking down on the hobos and bums are the same exact thing as the way the Empyreans look down on the Heartlanders. He never thinks things through, and never seems to see long term consequences. Toward the end of the book he seems to begin growing up which is promising.
Wendig is good at developing characters that are interesting, whether you like them or not. In this story, people aren't always who they seem to be, and a few of them seem to be hiding secrets of their own for their own reasons. A lot of their surface selves are predictable and familiar, but even in a place where the government controls your every move, people try to hold on to their layers and nuances.
The pacing of this book is fast and likes to torment the characters with one road block and conflict after another. At the time I read this book after finishing [b:Code Name Verity|11925514|Code Name Verity|Elizabeth Wein|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1337034341s/11925514.jpg|16885788] and [b:A Monster Calls|8621462|A Monster Calls|Patrick Ness|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356015593s/8621462.jpg|13492114]. These were books I also loved, but it was a refreshing change. It's a completely different emotional response. Wendig goes for the reader's frustration at seeing their characters get attacked with one unfortunate event and catastrophe after another, while [a:Elizabeth Wein|52320|Elizabeth Wein|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206789548p2/52320.jpg] and [a:Patrick Ness|370361|Patrick Ness|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1244216486p2/370361.jpg] went after the heart and mind in different ways. It's the difference between getting punched in the gut and being electrocuted.
The one thing about this book that seems like a flaw, but might turn out interesting and exciting in upcoming books, is the amount of issues it addresses. Right now the threads are some what scattered. Is it addressing the the Just World Fallacy?
The consequences of climate change? The importance of education, the downfalls of ignoring poverty? Gender studies, social norms, marriage, corrupt government citizens that are only progressive to people who can afford it? Disease, insufficient healthcare and on and on. There's a lot of ground for this series to cover, and I hope Wendig can find the balance between this and the personal conflicts of the characters.