Hoverboats on land, aggressive plants and an oppressive regime. Chuck Wendig delivers a rural dystopia with plenty of action in the first of his Heartland trilogy.
Cael and his hoverboat crew of three scavenge on plains of genetically modified corn, an inedible strain so aggressive it wraps around anything standing still. He’s determined to help his family, to get ahead, but everyone in the Heartland has to scrounge just to manage a tolerable existence. Ruled by the elite Empyrean living in luxury in floating cities, the odds are always stacked against them; they’re even forbidden to grow their own food.
Some people in the Heartlands do better than others, though. The mayor’s Empyrean connections ensure his family gets more than their share of everything, and his son’s scavenger crew cheat their way to the best loot – even if that means wrecking Cael’s boat.
Cael and his crew – Lane, Rigo and Gwennie – have stuck together all their lives. But he’s trying not think about the upcoming Harvest Home Festival, when all seventeen year-olds will be matched with their government-appointed betrothed, to be married in one year. Cael and Gwennie are in love; what will they do if they’re not matched?
He and his friends have to find a way to get past the restrictions places on them. How can Cael keep living in a world that could take everything he cares about away from him?
Under the Empyrean Sky* is the first book in Chuck Wendig’s young adult Heartland trilogy. It’s a fast-paced story of a group of teenagers caught in a system stacked against them.
It’s primarily Cael’s story. He drives the action and we’re shown his motivations, so we understand why he’s impulsive and willing to risk so much. Though the characters of his friends, Lane and Rigo, are not as well developed, both have backgrounds and traits that more than justify their willingness to follow Cael into danger.
A few things remain unexplained about Empyrean rule, such as why they don’t allow Heartlanders to grow fruit and vegetables, or why they live in floating cities. As this is only the first book in a trilogy, perhaps more will be revealed in later books.
At times this novel evokes frustration, not with the story but in the story, as time and again Cael, his friends and his family suffer the injustices of Empyrean rule, either through his home town’s authorities or directly. Wendig throws one thing after another at them, and on occasion one could be forgiven for mistaking it for Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’.
Perhaps what I found most difficult about the injustices in this story, though, is that although the setting is a fictional dystopia, the control and conditions the people live in are all too common in the real world. There are many places where people have no choice in where they live, the work they do, what they eat, or who they marry. They have arbitrary laws imposed on them and are arrested for disagreeing with the state. Though no one could really understand what that’s like unless they’d been through it, Wendig’s Heartland evokes a sense of the hopelessness and desperation that living in such a society could induce.
Cael and his friends, though, have hope. There are surprises. There are victories. Ultimately they won’t sit back and take the life the Empyrean overlords hand out. And they might even get away with it.
Under the Empyrean Sky is a great read. This book finishes with a satisfying resolution, though there is clearly much more of the story to tell in Books 2 and 3. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
Under the Empyrean Sky: The Heartland Trilogy Book 1
by Chuck Wendig
Skyscape: 2013. ISBN: 9781477817209
Links: terribleminds - Chuck Wendig’s website