Book Review: Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi

December 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , )

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.
Until.
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~
Cheers!

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Top Ten of 2011 + Giveaway

December 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm (Giveaway) (, , , , , )

I’ve read a loooooooot of books this year. Some were re-reads, a healthy amount were non-YA/MG, but I still had a lot of books left on my list when the narrowing was done. So, thought I’d share with you some of my favorite discoveries of this year.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. You’ve heard me gush about this a LOT in the past few months but I still can’t get over how much I love this book. It’s gorgeous in every way- in story, in character, in scope…especially in language. This is a book that makes you fall in love with words all over again, a book that makes you close your eyes to savor the image painted across the back of your lids. It’s about the price of wishes, the importance of small things, about all the many, many types of love. This is a book that makes you want to tear through it, devour it whole, except you can’t- sometimes you just have to stop to absorb. This is a book that absolutely took my breath away.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. The Hunger Games changed the landscape of teen writing in much the same way the Twilight did, in creating a thirst for more within a specific genre. Where Divergent steps apart, though, is that isn’t merely a dystopian- it goes beyond its world to ask the more basic- and more important- question of who we are. Perhaps even more than that, it asks us who we choose to be. It’s a simple question but, as we learn through Tris, it’s a far from simple answer. It’s a brutal story, but in that brutality we’re forced to confront some painful truths, accept some painful facts. We- and Tris- are the better for it. This was one I read straight in one sitting, minus some necessary pauses where my managers expected me to actually work, and I can’t wait for the next one in May.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon. I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and this is a fantastic example of why. This is a beautiful blend of the base fairy tale (in this case, the Twelve Dancing Princesses), a mildly fantasy version of our world, a historical setting, a story of manners, and a thread of superb voice that ties them all together. There’s never any question of what the foundation story is, it’s never buried beneath everything else, but it still makes the story its own. The characters are distinct and rounded, full of surprises while remaining consistent, and it’s a light frolic through an enchanting atmosphere. I actually re-read this one a couple of times through the year simply because it makes me feel better.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. This book is squarely fantasy and yet it manages to feel historical. Its borrowed influences are so strong and so well built that we open the pages and feel transported to what could be Alhambra in Moorish Spain. The details are amazing. Things don’t just happen around us, we’re fully immersed in them. We don’t just watch the story happen; we hear it, smell it, taste it. Both the good and bad of the full sensory range. Elisa isn’t your typical heroine- she has a strong degree of self-loathing and an overwhelming conviction of her own uselessness in the face of a grand destiny imbedded in her navel. Yes, her navel. Elisa’s journey through a rich, vibrantly crafted world echoes through her internal journey for a story that’s riveting and enveloping.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. This is a story that starts cold and painful and terribly alone and grows into something heart-warming and cozy and ineffably beautiful. It’s about losing things and sometimes finding them- and sometimes finding something better. This is a story that made me melt over and over and over while reading it and I can’t even put into words just how much I loved it. It’s a Middle Grade but it’s one that should be read by everyone, regardless of age. At its heart this is a story about belonging to a family, no matter how unusual, and that’s something everyone should have a part of.

The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. Yes, I’m cheating and saying a full series instead of a single book, but I just discovered the series this year and absolutely fell in love. I read the first four (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel) straight in a row, had to wait about two weeks for City of Fallen Angels, and then promptly reread all of them to do reviews. Yes, that translates to reading all five of them twice in two and a half weeks. I’ve even read them again since. I am all about characters and I love how incredibly complex and well-rounded the inhabitants of the Shadowhunters’ world are. I also love that Clare is rather brutal to them- what she puts them through forces them to continue changing, pushes them against things they think they can never encompass, and then makes things even worse. It’s built off of amazing combinations of mythologies and no matter what, there’s always a thread of humor both bizarre and macabre (cannibal ducks, anyone?)

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. This was my first foray into the insanity that is Maureen Johnson’s everyday life, inspired largely by how crazy and entertaining she is on Twitter and partly from the fact that I went through a Jack the Ripper obsession in late middle school. I should have guessed, from the Twitter feed, that this was not a safe book to read in front of the computer- fortunately, I was able to clean all the soda from my keyboard and other than the N key being a little sticky, it’s still fully functional. Rory is hysterically earnest as a narrator but there’s a dark thread woven through the story that gives us both gravity and danger. There are times when this is edge-of-your-seat riveting. And there’s page 161. This was a fantastic entree into Johnsonland, a story that turns ghost stories on its ear with an inimitable style.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is an exceptional example of how characters can be defined by their environs. Puck and Sean as they are couldn’t exist anywhere other than the Isle of Thisby. Everything in this book ties back into what it means to be part of the island. You don’t belong to the island simply because you grew up there- most who live there all their lives are never so much a part of it as Sean and Puck. Between them, they are the island and the ocean and the capaill uisce that straddle the bloody foam of the surf. Absolutely gorgeous.

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I adore Rick Riordan, not just because I love the stories but because he’s inspired millions and millions of kids to read. But the stories are amazing too. Son of Neptune continues the grand story of Percy Jackson but also allows it to keep expanding in a world that had a lot to offer. The Roman world, for all it’s borrowed from the Greeks, is very different in execution. We’re definitely not in Camp Half-Blood, with its cozy campfires and Capture the Flag. Then again, at Half-Blood you never see what happens after they’re old enough to leave camp. I love the differences, the way we sink into this larger world, and I love how we get such a mix of emotions through the story. Riordan isn’t afraid to allow hard things to happen to his characters and from that they grow.

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. I have a love of broken things, especially broken things that rework themselves into something lovely while still retaining all their broken history. This book is a love song to broken things, lost things, things that careen about in a constant state of half-destruction. It’s a love song, yes, but it’s also a quest and an endless journey into self-discovery and maybe, in a very hard-won sort of way, to self-love. Or at least to loving someone who loves you in spite of all your brokenness. It’s framed by religion yet is never constrained by that. It’s a frame, but not a cage. It’s beautiful and sharp-edged, full of shattered glass and shattered dreams, and clings to that tenuous, dangerous promise of hope.

What are your favorites from this year? Share below and get entered for an ARC of Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi. I’ll draw the winner on the 25th as a special Christmas surprise. (not international, sorry- that kind of shipping is expensive)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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