Title: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: HarperCollins (US) / Atom (UK)
Publication Date: January 2012 (US) / February 2012 (UK)
Hardcover: 384 pages
Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.
As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.
They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned trilogy
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher (via NY Comicon!)
Why did I read this book: Why, hello pre-publication book buzz. Under the Never Sky is one of the Much Buzzed About titles of 2012, with rights sold in 20 markets (with six-figure advances), and film rights to the trilogy have been secured by Warner Brothers (beating out the ubiquitous YA dystopian film right snatching Summit Entertainment). I saw Veronica Rossi speak at NYCC last year and was intrigued by the concept of her book, outside of the hype machine. While the concept of a hi-tech-meets-low-tech dystopia isn’t new, when done well, it’s a story setup that I personally love. I was lucky enough to snag an ARC at the con, and eagerly counted down the days to publication for review.
In a world where the sky is blighted by a never ending lethal torrent called Aether, mankind has split into two factions – those who have chosen to live their entire lives in eco-sealed pods supported by technological innovation away from the Aether’s devastating reach, and those who have spurned life indoors and choose to embrace the world outside and the dangers the Aether may bring. In the pod city of Reverie, Aria lives a quiet, sheltered life with her mother Lumina, where they have all the comforts of a technologically advanced society. In Reverie, just like every other pod city, while humans may have limited physical quarters and mobility, they escape drudgery by accessing the virtual worlds of “The Realms” through their visual biological implants (called Smarteyes). When Lumina is transported to another pod city to continue genetic research and Aria doesn’t hear from her mother for over a week, though, her quiet world is shattered irreparably and she makes a decision to reach Lumina that will change everything.
Outside the Eloi-like existence of those in the pods with their placid, plugged-in lives, Peregrine’s world is one of brutal, unforgiving reality. In the realm outside the bubble-like pods, winters are harsh and Aether storms raze entire crop yields and villages. Perry’s tribe, the Tides, prepares for the coming cold but struggles without a shortage of food, gradual sickness, and fractured leadership. The Tides’ Blood Lord is Perry’s grieving older brother, and Perry must control his urge for dominance of the tribe – and with his dual gifts for scenting others’ emotions (“tempers”) and his ability to see great distances even at night, Perry’s urge for power is strong indeed – in order to preserve their already fractured relationship. When Perry’s nephew is abducted by men from the pod cities, Perry vows he will do anything to get him back and leaves the Tides, perhaps for good.
Along the way, Perry and Aria’s paths will cross, and they two will stumble upon a shocking truth that will define and change both of their worlds forever.
At first glance, Under the Never Sky is a whole bunch of the familiar, as the book uses many tropes of which I am not a huge fan. There are quite a few things that bother me about the book – namely the lack of scientific background, the lack of actual answers (what the heck is the Aether, anyways?), and the silly sounding technology (A “Smarteye”, really?). The narrative style for the novel is also unappealing, as it uses the increasingly popular alternating heroine/hero chapter perspective.1 There’s also the more significant problem that the high-tech component of the world doesn’t actually make sense – how exactly is it that people in pod cities like Reverie exist in the real world and spend all their time in the realms? Why would these people bother with walking around at all if they are plugged in for literally every second of their lives? How are these people walking around yet simultaneously navigating virtual worlds? Why bother engineering physical genetic traits when one can make themselves look like anything in the Realms? SO many grating inconsistencies.
And yet, despite all my criticisms…I found myself truly enjoying the book.
As I’ve said above, the concept of a hi-meets-low-tech dystopia isn’t particularly new or novel – see Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, Pedar O’Guillin’s The Inferior – but it is one of my personal favorite tropes, especially in science fiction.2 And, to Under the Never Sky‘s credit, once the story shifts from the city of Reverie and moves to the outside world, it’s easy to put skepticism behind and get caught up in the journey of Aria and Perry as they struggle to save the people they love. I loved the brutality of Outside and the frightening power and unpredictability of the Aether (even if we never really learn what it actually is or why the sky is blighted by it), the scarceness of food, and the dangers faced by other tribes (including cannibal tribes, naturally). I actually think Under the Never Sky succeeds more as a fantasy novel, as opposed to a science fiction one. The powers that Perry has and the mutations that other Outsiders have developed because of their exposure to Aether have a greater similarity to magical powers than to science, and that’s perfectly fine – the detail of Perry’s ability to scent ‘tempers’ and the slew of other tactile gifts was one of my favorite aspects of the novel. The other believable, well-executed aspect of the story was the bitterness between outsiders and pod-dwellers. To Aria and her ilk, those who live outside are “savages”; to Perry and his brethren, those who live their rotting lives indoors are “moles”.
Which brings me to my next point. Beyond the plotting and world, I think the thing that won me over the most with this book is the decided lack of the dreaded insta-love (I was very scared when I opened the book and saw the alternating boy-girl chapters which, perhaps unfairly, always spells INSTALOVE OF DOOM in my eyes). Of course, obviously, Perry and Aria do eventually fall in love – but they don’t fall in love right away, which surprised me. I liked that Aria is rightfully, sanely scared out of her mind by Perry for the majority of the book (and there isn’t any fawning over his lusty good looks, either). There’s mutual distrust and fear on the part of both protagonists as they come from two different worlds that hate and distrust each other, and it’s only after enduring so much hardship together that the two begin to understand, respect, and only then grow to love each other. And I believed the love story and kinda fell for both Aria and Perry – what can I say? Maybe I’m not as jaded as I thought I was. I love Aria’s quick thinking and tenacity, just as I loved Perry’s unwavering dedication.
Ending on a high note that thankfully isn’t a bitter cliffhanger, I found myself surprisingly enamored with this book. I cannot wait for Through the Ever Night.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Magic. That was the word that came to Aria’s mind. An old word, from a time when illusions still mystified people. Before the Realms made magic common.She moved closer, drawn by the gold and amber tones in the flame. By the way it changed shape constantly. The smoke was richer than anything she had ever smelled. It tightened the skin along her arms. Then she saw how the burning leaves curled and blackened and disappeared.
This was wrong.
Aria looked up. Soren had frozen in place, his eyes wide. He looked bewitched, just as Paisley and the brothers did. Like they were seeing the fire without really seeing it.
“That’s enough,” she said. “We should turn it off . . . or get water or something.” No one moved. “Soren, it’s starting to spread.”
“Let’s give it more.”
“More? Trees are made of wood. It’ll spread to the trees!” Echo and Bane ran off before she’d finished speaking.
Paisley grabbed her sleeve, pulling her away from the burning stack. “Aria, stop or he’ll hurt you again.”
“This whole place is going to burn if we don’t do something.” She glanced back. Soren stood too close to the fire. The flames had nearly reached his height. The fire made sounds now, pops and crackles over a dull roar.
“Get sticks!” he yelled at the brothers. “The sticks make it stronger.”
Aria didn’t know what to do. When she thought of stopping them the ache in her shoulder flared, warning her of what might happen again. Echo and Bane ran up with armfuls of branches. They threw them onto the fire, sending sparks into the trees. A surge of hot air blew past her cheeks.
“We’re going to run, Paisley,” she whispered. “Ready . . .go.”
For the third time that night, Aria grasped Paisley’s hand. She couldn’t let Paisley fall behind. She wove through the trees, her legs churning, as she tried to keep them on a straight course. She didn’t know when the boys started chasing them, but she heard Soren behind her.
You can read the first five chapters on facebook.
Additional Thoughts: I don’t think I can finish this review without remarking on the awfulness that is both the US and UK covers for this book. The US cover has absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. (The only similarity is that Aria is pale and dark haired – but she certainly doesn’t walk around in a black leather outfit with a single glove. The floaty streamers in the background and car dealership spotlights don’t really help things much, either.)
The UK cover is just…wow. I feel like there should be a unicorn on there somewhere. In fact, I think a unicorn would improve the cover – you know, in a go big or go home type of way.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
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