This is the second book in a trilogy, but I finished the first book in December of 2015, and thus it is not eligible. If you’re interested in this book, obviously you should probably look at the first one first. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers for the first book here, but as this is a sequel and builds off of those events there are probably going to be at least a few.
Before I start (and thus before the cut happens, so you CAN avoid spoilers) I need to make a quick disclaimer. I am not a fan of Chuck Wendig’s writing style. I think if I were, I would have rated this much higher, as the characters and plot are very compelling. However, Wendig revels in the grit and muck with his writing and I don’t particularly enjoy the act of reading his novels, even when the story is particularly compelling. To be fair, it is less obvious in these books then it is in the Miriam Black novels.
Back to the book. This is a dystopian series. Humans have ruined the world and created a genetically modified super corn (one that isn’t particularly edible and sort of violent-think venus fly trap). Society is divided into those who farm, and process, the corn on the ground and those who live in the sky, the Empyrean, and benefit from the corn by-products. The people on the ground live a hard scrabble, hand to mouth life. Because growing anything but the inedible corn is illegal, they rely on the Empyrean to provide them with foodstuff. The Empyrean of course gives them awful food and crappy medical supplies, because dystopia. This one starts immediately where the first one leaves off. Cael and his friends are on the run and Gwennie is finding out that life in the sky is less magical then she, and all Heartlanders, thought it would be. Cael is hiding a terrible secret, and along the way they run into raiders, rebels and find out just how all that is connected to Cael’s father.
The book deals pretty heavily with genetic modification, and while I can’t get too specific because spoilers, I will say that I really like the questions it raises about genetic modification. It does not say that genetic modification is completely bad exactly. I’d say that the real evil in these novels is capitalism and the pure pursuit of wealth whatever the cost. The creation of this horrible corn is just one output of that pursuit.
Obviously, the book deals heavily with classism issues. The haves and the have-nots, and how the haves will pit the have-nots against each other in order to keep then squabbling on the ground. However, because Wendig is a good writer (even if he’s not to my taste) the characters are never two dimensional. Nor is morality a simple black and white thing. The characters are the strongest part of the novel, even the smallest bit-part character gets enough detail to make them a real character and not a two-bit flat note.
The world building is pretty detailed and extremely creative. However, I don’t always see how we got from here to there. It’s a common problem I have with dystopias though, so I can let it slide.
These are teenagers, and they deal with romantic entanglements, so there is what could be seen as the YA love triangle. But it feels more complicated then a simple ‘who will she pick’ situation. It’s also mostly in the background.
As a side note, there are multiple rape threats against two of our female characters. And while nothing ever comes of it, I started rolling my eyes when another one popped up. And in an extremely WTF moment an attacker “pushes his finger painfully into [Gwennie’s] bellybutton”. It’s both an extremely odd phrasing and, as it takes place as said attacker is threatening rape, really icky. This attack leaves Gwennie pretty beat up and unconscious. It’s as though Wendig realized that he couldn’t actually write a rape scene but he wanted to get as close as he could.
Do I recommend it? Yes? I think so. Even though I don’t enjoy Wendig’s writing style this was a pretty engrossing novel. I would suggest starting with the first one though. It’s a pretty unique dystopian novel, so if you’re a fan of those you might really enjoy this one.