Book Review: Young Adult: The Harvest by Chuck Wendig

The Harvest cover

It’s been a year since the Saranyu flotilla fell from the sky, and life in the Heartland has changed. Gone are the Obligations and the Harvest Home festivals. In their place is a spate of dead towns, the former inhabitants forced into mechanical bodies to serve the Empyrean—and crush the Heartland.

When Cael awakens from a Blightborn sleep, miles away from the world he remembers, he sets out across the Heartland to gather his friends for one last mission. As the mechanicals, a war flotilla, and a pack of feral Empyrean girls begin to close in on the Heartland, there isn’t much time to make their next move. But if they can uncover a secret weapon in time, Cael and his friends might just find themselves with the power to save the world—or destroy it—resting in their hands.

Title: The Harvest
Author: Chuck Wendig
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian/Near-future SF
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Format: DRC
Length: 437 pages
ISBN-10: 1477830022
ISBN-13: 9781477830024

Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #3

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Power Corrupts, Evil for Evil, Family
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley.  Since I reviewed the second book, I figured I might as well see what’s changed.

Review:

(The first thing I want to say is, normally I leave cover commentary to Marisa, but the whole set of covers for this series were fantastic.  The whole design, even.  I really enjoyed the visual look of the series.)

There were a lot of things to love about this book.  The supporting cast is complex and well-drawn.  They have goals beyond helping the protag do whatever he’s doing.  The villain was lovely.  Sort of a secret, but worked brilliantly with the themes of the book without sacrificing narrative consistency.  You can totally believe all the characters’ motivations while simultaneously seeing the trainwreck they are leading up to.  Cael’s opponent and allies all have their own goals, and are often blind to each other’s understanding of the world.  The Empyrean are more than just villains or dupes.  They may not care much about the Heartlanders, but they care a lot about each other.  It’s rare to see characters reflect the way that everyone is the hero of their own story and has their own narrative through which they view the world.

You learn a great deal about the world of the story that was always in the background but unknown to the readers and characters.  As usual, Wendig’s world-building is beautiful.  Not only is it rich without info-dumping, but it really draws you into the setting.  In so many ways, it seems like it could be real.  Many fantasy and science fiction authors don’t and will probably never have the ability to create a world that seems like it exists beyond the confines of the story.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a MacGuffin in the book.  But it’s a beautiful one.  It does so much more than just provide a quest object for Cael and his enemies to fight over. It reveals things about many of the supporting characters, the way the world of the Heartland is built and functions, and to what lengths the main characters are willing to go to achieve their goals.

The book also has another SFF staple: the Epilogue.  Personally, I felt this one was a bit more of an easy hook to leave space for writing other stories set in Wendig’s world.  I don’t think it was necessary for the story told in this novel.

The themes of the novel, and the series, are both clear but not ham-fisted.  The events of the story just naturally seem to support them.  The structure of the novel just fits these things in so well.

But, as a book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.  I was constantly putting the book down at the slightest opportunity.  And it was often hard to make myself pick it back up.  I admire Wendig’s skills as a writer in a lot of areas.  But novel pacing is not very high among them.  There was far too much down-time, often unnecessary.  Then all the action would be packed into tiny little bits of the book.  Perhaps that lack of focus was the thing that allowed Wendig to do all the things I loved in this book.  But as strictly a reader, it made it hard to keep reading.

I’m just waiting for Wendig to take all the things he does so well and tie them in with a well-paced story that keeps me reading.  From a writer’s standpoint, this book was incredibly interesting as something to analyze for craft, but as a novel, it was eminently put-down-able.  That may seem odd given the score I gave it.  But I know I have a bit of an odd view on what makes a good book, and I think many readers will have an easier time keeping their eyes on the page than I.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Lovely in its parts, quite flawed as a whole)
Premise: 9/10 (As nifty as it was in the first book)
Plot: 7/10 (Some cool twists, but nothing brilliant)
Setting: 10/10 (As usual, Wendig delivers)
Main Character: 6/10 (Kinda dull, also a douche)
The Villain: 8/10 (Worked brilliantly with the theme)
The Weapon: 8/10 (Loved it)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-drawn and interesting)
Writing: 8/10 (Well above competent)
Themes: 9/10 (Favorites well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cool, but coulda been better)

Buy Or Borrow:  If you liked the rest of the series, you’ll probably love this.  If not, it might be better to borrow from a friend.

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.

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Michael Patrick Hicks – Author Website
Article 94
Froggy Chemist
Dantastic Book Reviews

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

Book Review: Young Adult: Blightborn by Chuck Wendig

blightborncover

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.

Title: Blightborn
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
ISBN-10: 1477847707
ISBN-13: 978-1477847701

Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #2

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Environmentalism, Terrorism
POV: 3rd Person, Multiple POV
Tense: Present

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.

Review:

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.

Similar Books:
Divergent series by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Matched by Allie Condie
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Michael Patrick Hicks – Author Website
Bones, Books, & Buffy
Melanie R. Meadors – Author Website

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks Not available
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo Not available
Google Play Not available
nook Not available