Title: Glow

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: October 2010
Hardcover: 251 pages

What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you’d been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival — not love — the issue?

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth’s collapse, the ship’s crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader’s efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don’t know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them…

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager—until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he’s the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage—and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren’t all from the outside.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Sky Chasers series

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher (via BEA)

Why did I read this book: I’m always a little leery of books with marketing materials/publicity that proclaims they are the next coming of Twilight/The Hunger Games/etc – which is why it took me a little longer to get around to Glow. When I started seeing reviews pop up around the interwebs that talked about how dark and unsettling this novel was, however, I knew I had to get it into the rotation as soon as possible.

Review:

In a distant future, the Earth has succumbed to centuries of humanity’s abuses, and mankind takes to the stars for hopes of a new future upon a distant planet. Two ships, the New Horizon and the Empyrean, leave their dying planet behind, each full of bright-eyed and intelligent adults, eager to span the vast reach of space. Both ships leave Earth a year apart on a joint mission, never to meet until they reach their final destination. When Empyrean stumbles across a battered New Horizon a few decades into the mission, the crew is anxious, fearing something must have gone wrong with the sister ship.

The truth, unfortunately, is far worse than anyone on board Empyrean could have expected.

Devastated by a disease that has rendered all women on the New Horizon sterile, an armed, desperate crew forces its way onto Empyrean, killing anyone in their way, tricking and abducting all the ship’s female children. With all the adults almost completely wiped out by the ambush, the isolated boys of Empyrean struggle to rescue their dying parents and their stolen sisters and girlfriends. Fifteen year-old Waverly is one of the abducted girls brought aboard New Horizon – though the leader of the ship insists that the Empyrean was destroyed and that the girls were taken on an evacuation mission to save their lives, Waverly knows that something is very wrong and deeply suspects their motives. Back on Empyrean, sixteen year-old Kieran struggles to hold the crippled ship together, trying to lead and organize the desperate boys, keeping them from descending into chaos and violence. More than anything, Kieran is determined to get Waverly and the other taken girls back – but when the boys start turning on each other, under the venomous influence of rival teen Seth, Kieran’s life hangs in the balance.

Well then. Glow is certainly every bit as dark as promised by reviews, and it’s also incredibly fast-paced and as action-filled as – dare I make this comparison? – The Hunger Games. That said, Glow isn’t quite as polished or well-constructed as Suzanne Collins’s dystopian blockbuster, though it certainly has its own grimly fascinating appeal. In direct terms, Glow is everything that I wanted from Beth Revis’s disappointing Across the Universe. This is a frightening, compelling, and glorifies in the darkest recesses of human nature. There are no simple “good guys” in this book; no perfect, infallible heroes or safe harbors. Even the adult crew of the Empyrean has its own unsavory past, revealed as Waverly and the bitter Felicity recount their encounters older men. The crew of the New Horizon, of course, has its own lurid history. I loved the moral ambiguity that characterizes this novel, and how there are rights and wrongs on both ships and amongst both crews. While Anne Mather may be a manipulative, iron-fisted dictator in the body of a kindly grandmother and her goons are predictably one-note, there are members of the New Horizon crew that do not know of (or subversively oppose) her machinations.

This makes things complicated from a character perspective, though. Because the moral lines are so blurred, it’s hard to actually like anyone in this book. Waverly, our heroine, is the only clear character that readers can root for as she fights to find the truth and get her fellow Empyreans home. Across the nebula, her boyfriend Kieran is our hero counterpart, but much more conflicted than Waverly. For all that Kieran has his heart in the right place, he’s not a perfect leader by any stretch of the imagination as he commits a number of missteps and allows himself to be easily overthrown by the bitter, forceful Seth. And, by the end of the novel, Kieran’s parlance takes on a decidedly sinister, zealous tone. As for the usurper, Seth is complicated, though painted in an uncharitably villainous light in Glow. It’s all very Lord of the Flies, very Jack and Sawyer from Lost – I just hope that in the next book, we’ll see that Seth has more depth and character than what is revealed in this first novel. The adults are far less interesting than the younger protagonists, unfortunately, as though I want to know more about Anne Mather’s backstory and the history between her and Captain Jones, they are simplified villains not to be trusted in this first book.

From a storytelling and worldbuilding perspective, I do love the outerspace setting, but Glow unfortunately makes many of the same mistakes of recent YA science fiction – that is, Ms. Ryan treats the vacuum of space as a friction-based medium. Luckily, the plotting is brisk and the storytelling otherwise sound – so the lapses in science are less of an issue. Although I was a little frustrated with the dichotomy of relgious vs. secular belief systems played out, there is a lot of potential in this series for future complexity and development. I, for one, will certainly be around for more.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:

The other ship hung in the sky like a pendant, silver in the ether light cast by the nebula. Waverly and Kieran, lying together on their mattress of hay bales, took turns peering at it through a spyglass. They knew it was a companion vessel to theirs, but out here, in the vastness of space, it could have been as tiny as a OneMan or as immense as a star—there were no points of reference.

“Our ships are so ugly,” Waverly said. “I’ve seen pictures, but in person . . .”

“I know,” said Kieran, taking the spyglass from her. “It looks like it has cancer or something.”

The other ship, the New Horizon, was exactly the same misshapen design as the Empyrean. It was egg shaped, covered with domes that housed the different ship systems, making it look like a Jerusalem artichoke, the kind Mrs. Stillwell always dropped off with Kieran’s family after the fall harvest. The engines released a bluish glow that illuminated the particles of the nebula, causing the occasional spark to fly when the heat of the engines ignited a pocket of hydrogen. Of course, the ships were accelerating too quickly to be harmed by these small explosions.

“Do you think they’re like us?” she asked him.

Kieran tugged at one of her dark brown curls. “Sure they are. They have the same mission as we do.”

“They must want something from us,” Waverly said, “or they wouldn’t be here.”

“What could they want?” he said to reassure her. “Everything we have, they have.”

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

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12 Responses to Book Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

  1. Nimue says:

    Very good review. You mentioned all the important points and I completely agree with you analysis.

    Funnily, I posted my review of Glow also today :)

  2. I’m not typically a sci-fi or outer space fan, however I DO love books that deal with crazy religious zealots. That’s probably weird, but I always found religions interesting.

  3. Bell says:

    I’ve been wary about this book, in spite of a really interesting premise, because I’m typically not big on sci-fi. But from your review it sounds like it’s definitely worth a read.

  4. Karen says:

    I had been avoiding this one because I, too, found Across the Universe extremely disappointing… if this one pops up at work I may check it out now! Thanks for the review.

  5. Thea says:

    Nimue – Great minds, obviously ;) Thanks for the heads up, I’ll make sure to check out your review to see your thoughts!

    April – What’s a dystopia without religious zealots? Ok, maybe it’s a little weird that you love that in your books, but who am I to judge?! Heh. I hope you like this one, I have a feeling that you might!

    Bell – I’d definitely give this one a try if you’re not a sci-fi person or stickler. The science is pretty soft, so you shouldn’t have any problems relating! In fact, I’d think it’s better for those who don’t care about the science aspect (the physics mistakes in this book are pretty glaring and more seasoned sci-fi fans or sticklers may take issue with the book).

    Karen – OH if you found Across the Universe disappointing, I think you might want to give this one a try. Like I said above, Glow is what I wanted and expected from Ms. Revis’s novel – I hope you give it a chance! I’d be interested to see what you think about this one!

  6. Phoebe North says:

    (the physics mistakes in this book are pretty glaring and more seasoned sci-fi fans or sticklers may take issue with the book).

    *grumbles loudly in agreement*

    Oh, Ryan clearly tried. Sad that it was not quite right, because I think the physics mistakes will keep this one from finding a skiffy audience who would otherwise love it.

  7. Connie says:

    Heres my review!

    This is a very fast paced book. A story set in the future, at a time when the earth is dying, two space ships have been launched to the same destination but initially within different time frames. Both ships have fertility problems on board, one overcomes them, the other does not. One ship is religious, the other is not. Conflict arises and when the two ships meet up chaos arises.

    I think this book would be better suited to older teenagers as there are some adult themes in it and some rather dark things do happen, which I found a little disturbing.

    What I also did not like was how difficult situations often bought out the worst in the characters in the book, rather than the best in them. At first I thought Seth and Kieran would turn out to be good characters, but in the end was less sure of them both.

    The strongest and best character in the book by far was the girl Waverly, who I found myself rooting for.

  8. Hmmm… the religious thing doesn’t appeal to me. I may or may not pick it up.

  9. [...] Book Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan [...]

  10. emily says:

    I’ve never really been into sci-fi but after reading the glow I’m hooked I loved it can’t wait to the sequel irritated I have to wait until July for the release though. THE BOOK WAS AMAZING.

  11. [...] Wednesday, Thea is back with her review of YA sci-fi novel Spark, the sequel to Glow by Amy Kathleen [...]

  12. [...] Opinions: @The Book Smugglers @So Little Time for Books @YA [...]

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