Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.
Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.
The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?
They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.
Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.
Author: Chuck Wendig
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Publisher: Amazon Publishing (Skyscape)
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Ebook
Length: 528 pages
Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #2
Themes: Environmentalism, Terrorism
POV: 3rd Person, Multiple POV
Reviewer: Nick Morgan
Why I Read It: Despite my disillusionment with the dystopian genre in the past few years, I decided to give this book a shot after receiving a digital review copy from the publisher through NetGalley. I have no regrets.
Chuck Wendig demonstrates his powerful storytelling abilities in his Heartlands series. Both Blightborn and the previous book were page-turners with interesting characters and a beautifully crafted setting in the Heartland of what used to be the United States, and is now the dominion of the Emyperean. Corn has spread like a weed across vast swaths of the old Midwest, and the economy is based on the trade of corn derivatives with the builders of great floating cities in the sky.
Mild spoilers for Under the Empyeran Sky follow:
Following Gwennie’s ascent into the flotilla of Ormond Stirling Saranyu as a Lottery Winner, Wendig introduces us to Gwennie’s new protector, Balastair, and are slowly introduced to the rest f the Empyrean cast. We also start to get some hints of what happened to Cael’s sister Merelda. And it’s quite an interesting story, too.
We also get to learn more about the world of the Heartland and Empyrean. Some of the history and the secrets come to light during Cael’s journey. The reasons why the world is the way it is are pretty well constructed, and they add wonderfully to the (urban) mythology of Wendig’s world.
I would say Blightborn is an improvement on Empyrean Sky, instead of the slump that many middle books in a trilogy tend to be. The action ramps up, but it’s not filler. There are no training montages or sitting around waiting for the enemy to make a move. Wendig has created one of the more proactive dystopian MCs in a long while, and he takes full advantage of it.
Now, with all that said, there are some things that are not so great about the book. For example, Wendig still hasn’t really explained the reason for the Obligation ceremony. The ceremony serves to drive much of the story, both in the form of the conflict over Gwennie between Cael and Boyland, and in the character arc of Wanda. The idea of the Obligation certainly provides some convenient tension and motivation for Wendig’s characters, but it’s rather unclear why the Empyrean have imposed it on the Heartlanders when their own society is so much more free in terms of sexual and romantic relationships. Perhaps Wendig has some answers, but he hasn’t seen fit to share them with his readers, and I found it a bit frustrating.
Something of a bit more controversial nature is the relationship between Merelda and her friend from the Provisional Depot. I won’t spoil it here, especially this close to publication, but it’s something that would certainly push this towards the 14+ crowd if you went by the standard media ratings systems. I haven’t actually decided how I feel about it. It fits with the way many teenagers think, and it creates one of the most interesting sources of tension in the novel. But it did make me rather uncomfortable in a way not a lot of YA books do. In some ways, that’s actually a compliment to Wendig. If I just hated it, or wasn’t at all bothered, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful of a situation, and it would probably mean it was just handled poorly.
My final nitpick has to do with a world-building issue. Considering the technology obviously available to the Empyrean, it seems a bit odd they would have so much trouble creating the pegasus that drives so much of the first part of the novel. They Empyrean clearly has access to some incredible genetics and bio-engineering technology, as you’ll see if you read the book. So why do they find this one issue so difficult? I note this as an example of the cracks that run through Wendig’s world-building. As long as you are pulled along by the story itself, and keep turning pages, you might be able to ignore these cracks. But for those who do care a bit more about the world-building aspects of the story, I want to be honest about my feelings on this issue.
Still, despite a few reservations, I did enjoy this book, and I’m sure there are many others who would also enjoy it. I can’t say everyone should go out and buy this book right now, but neither can I let anyone dismiss it out of hand. Certainly, anyone who enjoyed the first book in the series will find this a worthy successor.
Conclusion: 74/100 (Very readable)
Premise: 9/10 (Convinced me to read the series, no problem)
Plot: 7/10 (Coherent if unambitious)
Setting: 8/10 (Well constructed, intriguing, mysterious)
Main Character: 8/10 (Well-crafted, engaging)
World-building 7/10 (Great base, shaky details)
Romance Sub-plot 5/10 (Cliche and forced)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-constructed, engaging)
Writing: 7/10 (More than competent, kept me reading)
Themes: 6/10 (High aspirations, low execution)
Resolution: 9/10 (Action-packed)
Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you love YA Dystopia.
About the Author:
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.