Because all of life is stories.
Under the Empyrean Sky is Chuck Wendig’s dystopian YA novel featuring slingshots, aggressive and possibly man-eating fruits and vegetables, flying speedboats, and cities in the clouds.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
Wendig is the author of quite a few books actually, but this is the first of his that I’ve read that wasn’t a How To book. He hosts a blog/online portfolio that involves a lot of really creative swearing mixed in with actually really wonderful writing advice. And every week he hosts a flash fiction writing challenge. You may remember mentioning it when I posted my first entry, The Apocalypse Lighthouse, a little while back.
Anyways, back to the wonderful world of The Heartland. The Heartland is the fictional country/community that Wendig’s novel takes place in, and is the overreaching title of the trilogy as a whole. Book two should be out sometime in the summer of 2014. The Heartland is full of a bunch of downtrodden and taken advantage of blue-collar workers. The schools are closed, and most jobs are in the factories or fields harvesting Hiram’s Golden Prolific, the genetically modified and partially sentient corn that is the only remaining crop on Earth. The only legal one anyways. The other basic tenets of society do remain: police, politicians, bartenders, store owners and scavengers.
Cael McAvoy is the leader of one such band of scavengers. He and his friends Rigo, Lane, and Gwennie make up the crew (and only employees) of the Big Sky Scavengers, the second biggest scavenger unit around. Well, second out of two anyways. Over the course of the book Cael will confront the potential loss of his first love, the unimaginable secrets of his father, the cavalier disappearance of his sister, and the cruelties of a system that abandoned him and the rest of the Heartlanders for a better life long ago.
The system is run by The Empyrean. Ensconced of floating cities far beyond the reach of any below the Empyrean are the elite class. Every pleasure and opportunity is afforded to them, and they care little for the dirt dwellers below. Heartlanders may get lucky and win the yearly lottery, allowing their family the right to move to the flotillas above, but the odds are low. Only one family every year is drawn. Usually from a town that most Heartlanders had never heard of. There is no other way (legally) to gain access to the paradise above.
Cael is sick to death of that status quo. When he stumbles upon something new out amongst the corn, plans and schemes hatch in his mind. And they will drag the whole of the Heartland into it before he is done.
Wendig’s book is a wonderfully entertaining dystopia. There is cursing, there is sex (implied, not implicit), and despite that it is still appropriate for the YA age group. It fits in alongside books by authors like Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, and China Mieville as one of the best dystopias I have ever read from off the YA shelves. And it proves that you can put a love triangle into a book without it overwhelming the story or being…well…awful.
The world is well realized. Like most (though not necessarily all) good dystopias, it critiques on issues that we see in real life, taken to their extremes. In this case, disparity in wealth is a heavy theme. The rich and powerful Empyrean and the poor and disenfranchised Heartlanders. Even those with power amongst the Heartlanders find themselves cast down and helpless before the cold and dispassionate eye of the Empyrean. All of it is, within its own world, highly believable. There was never a moment in which I was thrown out of the story.
It’s got great fight scenes, the concept is original, the romance is very well done, and the best part is there is still more to come. Pick it up from your favorite local bookstore. Or super-conglomerate. If that’s your thing. Empyrean scum.