I’ve been pretty psyched to read Under the Never Sky since I saw the cover several months ago. I mean, that is a pretty sweet cover, right? Plus, it’s a sci-fi dystopian, which is a mash-up of two of my favorite genres (and if you read my spotlight over on Michelle Muto‘s blog, you know I like genre mash-ups. Oh also, I was spotlighted on Michelle Muto’s blog! How cool is that?) So what better book to kick off my two-week dystopiaganza?
Dystopiarama? Dystopiapalooza? Hm. I may have to work on that.
Aria has lived all her life in the pod of Reverie among the Dwellers, safe from the Aether storms and deadly toxins in the Earth’s atmosphere. In Reverie, every entertainment, risk, and sensation takes place in the virtual Realms, an experience that proclaims itself “Better than Real.”
However, when Aria takes part in what is supposed to be harmless mischief, outside the safety of the Realms, everything goes wrong, and her night of fun ends in catastrophe. Lives are lost, lies are told, and before Aria knows what is going on, she finds herself exiled to the world outside the pods. The Death Shop.
Perry has lived his life in the shadow of his brother, Blood Lord of one of the many tribes that inhabits the treacherous lands outside the pods. He is a Scire, gifted with extraordinarily heightened senses of smell and sight, and feels that his tribe will suffer under his brother’s leadership. The only thing that has kept him from challenging his brother for the leadership role is his love for his brother’s small son, Talon.
But when Talon is kidnapped by Dwellers, Perry takes the blame and is forced to abandon his tribe.
Soon, Perry and Aria find themselves thrown together, forced to form a grudging alliance, each of them possessing something the other desperately needs. But their personal differences, the search for Talon, and the proof of Aria’s innocence is overshadowed by their continuous fight to simply survive.
First of all, I had a really hard time just writing the summary of the plot. This world is complex, and although I love the thought that went into it and all its intricacies, I found the story initially kind of hard to settle into. There’s a lot that happens very early on in the story, and I had to struggle to get my bearings. But once I got my feet under me (about halfway through my lovely synopsis up above), I really enjoyed the story.
I think this book is actually only loosely a dystopian. It’s really much more sci-fi, with a few dystopian elements thrown in almost as an afterthought. Truthfully, if not for random mentions of pieces of Earth’s history (a Matisse painting, a National Geographic magazine) sprinkled in sporadically, this entire story could easily have taken place on an alien planet. The atmospheric conditions are so different from what we currently know, and humans have changed so much, that the setting isn’t really recognizable as Earth. However, the back story of how the Earth came to be this way is never explained (there are some vague mentions of what happened before and after “Unity,” but the book never explain what this was), so maybe if it is revealed in the sequel(s), it will all make more sense.
I enjoyed Aria’s character. She wasn’t a meek and klutzy damsel in distress like so many YA heroines. (She was, of course, freakishly beautiful, BUT that is explained as a product of genetic engineering, and therefore forgivable. In Aria’s words, in Reverie, “everyone looks like this.” Ooh, deja vu!) She had her moments of forehead-slapping idiocy, but she also learned and grew, realized when her stubbornness was stupid, and was someone I could root for.
I liked Perry even more, although at the beginning I kind of wanted to punch him, what with all the “my brother’s in charge but it really should be me” nonsense. Okay, fine, it should be you, but stop acting like your only two choices are killing your brother or exile. There’s such a thing as humility, dude.
But again, that was just in the beginning. Once he was out on his own and with Aria, I liked him much more. And like Aria, he also grew, which I appreciated. Too often, the worldly male character in a book serves only as a teacher for the naive female character. But while Perry did teach Aria a number of things (including how to not pick poison berries, a lesson Peeta could have used), he also learns a great deal himself.
I enjoyed the pacing and the development of the plot, and the writing was absorbing, once I got used to it. I loved that the romance in the book developed slowly and naturally. The only complaint I had was that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending. A lot of questions go unanswered. Since this is book one of a trilogy, I’ll forgive it. But I was hoping at least a little more would be wrapped up in the first book.
Overall, I thought this was an intriguing story with engaging characters, and I’m excited to see what happens next.
Content guide: Contains violence, references to cannibalism, and brief sexual situations.