In a world where the skies constantly ripple with the cripping aether storms, survivors are sharply divided: there are those who live in the multi-pod complexes, completely cut off from the oustide world, and those who take their chances out in the wilds. Aria has spent all her life in the pseudo-reality of the realms, with limited real contact and, so long as the pods hold out, shelter from the storms. She’s never been hungry or exhausted, never been in physical danger. Peregrine has spent all his life hunting the wilds to keep his tribe alive, his preternatural senses both strength and bane beneath the aether skies. Neither has ever desired contact with the other’s world.
Aria breaks all the rules to try to contact her mother, cut off from contact in another pod. Peregrine breaks into a pod to search for medicine for his dying nephew.
Now things will never be the same.
This book does an amazing job of easing you into world-specific slang and terms. Most books fall sharply to one side or the other in this arena: either they explain every piece of slang as soon as they use it so it’s all telling no showing, or they use it fluently and never explain it. This is a wonderful balance. The slang is used naturally, the first time left to stand on its own, but the second and third and even the fourth time it’s used in strong context so we understand the gist, and eventually the nuances are given a little more explicitly. Because of that, the language folds around us, bringing us into a very different world with echoes of our own.
It’s an awesome world too. It’s our world, distantly. We’re never given to know exactly what happened, what brought the aether swirling into the skies, but enough time has passed that two very distinct societies have evolved. Within the pods, life is very sterile and clean. The people are genetically designed and illness has all but been irradicated. Personal contact- the actual physical act of contact- is rare. Most of them spend every waking moment in the Realms, countless pseudo-reality realms accessed through a thought and a Smarteye. Things are only echoes there, the sense of a thing without the true feeling. It’s virtual reality taken to an unsurpassed level of integration, where the genuine reality begins to feel unreal. Outside, society has regressed to tribes striving to survive beneath the aether storms and unpredictable food sources. People have evolved in the wilds, taking on nearly supernatural sensory abilities. Loyalties are important, marriages are undertaken with a care to bloodlines, and your name helps define who you are. Half-wild, half-civilized, they’re not far off from the Savages the pod-Dwellers think them to be. Most cling to communities where others can help them survive, some wander in cannibal tribes in the wastes, while others take their chances out on their own. The details are gorgeous, not always pleasant, and fully immerses you in a sharp-edged world.
Aria has never stepped foot outside of Reverie. Her entire life has been immersion in the Realms- and her mother. Lumina is a scientist who can’t discuss her work, but she crafted her daughter’s genes to give her a glorious voice. Off at another pod for research purposes, she abruptly loses contact with Aria. Desperate to reach her mother, she agrees to something reckless, something with only a slim chance of working- and it backfires horrifically, leading to three deaths and her inceremonious exile from Reverie. Dwellers can’t survive outside the pods- there’s nothing there for them. She can feel the aether sickness working through her, a sickness that will either kill her or mutate her (maybe both). Through her journey, she learns to find strength. She has stubbornness right from the beginning but she gradually acquires a real strength that can see her through anything. Well, nearly anything. Love isn’t much a part of the pod world; it isn’t neat, it isn’t always pretty, and it can have more than a little of the sharp, fierce joy that marks a savage life. What skills she has (opera among them) she learns to use, but most importantly, she learns what the world looks like with both eyes open, rather than hiding from reality in a Realm or behind a Smarteye.
I adored Peregrine. He’s wild and fierce, as much a predator as anything on four legs in the wilds. Despite that savagery though, that hint of mercilessness that keeps him from being kind precisely, he has strong loyalties and an even stronger sense of duty. So many of his actions directly relate to his tribe, the Tides, and what he can do for their welfare. It’s constant, an everpresent thread of determination. For all that, he’s also stubborn, generally unwilling to concede, and more than a little arrogant. He’s a bad boy- easy with the women, very sure of himself- but he’s also a leader who generally cares about the well-being of his people and who would move heaven and earth to save his nephew. He’s also occasionally a little over-whelmed. That’s when I really loved him. He has all the prejudices Aria does and then some, as well as a supreme impatience for other people’s weakness, but he is utterly endearing when he has to admit to himself that he is completely lost.
This book does a really good job of balancing exposition and action. We slowly learn bits and pieces of the larger world and the history, plus teasing hints of a possibly mythical paradise called the Still Blue, a place where the aether vanishes into clear blue skies. What happens in the first pages to hurl Aria into the outside world comes back in a major way and will continue to do so, and it is a doozy. The relationship that slowly, even reluctantly, grows between Aria and Peregrine reminds me a great deal of Beatrice and Benedick- utter detestation that treads a prickly path towards mutual respect until the painful realization that respect has become something more. It’s real, full of fits and starts, uncertainties that they sometimes surpass and other times allow to cripple them. Roar and Talon are amazing side characters, fully capable of evoking a wide range of emotions, and I fully look forward to meeting the mysterious Liv. I also loved Cinder- a very, very complicated little creature who suffers under a weath of pain and loathing.
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi, out in stores 3 January 2012. Want to win an ARC? Hop on over here and tell me your favorite book(s) of 2011, and you’ll be entered to win! (US only, open through Christmas)
Until next time~