Friday, December 30, 2011

Under the Never Sky

The title is great: Under the Never Sky. The book cover is decent, if a little run-of-the-mill for young adult fiction these days. But Veronica Rossi's debut novel details a dystopian world that is beautiful, while frightening, and a story that is simply fun to read.

Aria has a voice to match her name, but nobody knows about it because she lives most of her life in a virtual world where anything is possible and true talent isn't required. In reality, she lives in a Pod, where life is boring but safe from the Death Shop, as the outside world is called. The virtual Realms are a means of coping with Pod life.

Peregrine lives on the Outside, the product of generations of evolution under a dangerous sky. He has heightened sight and smell, sharp canine teeth, and a family that's practically royalty in his world. His brother is Blood Lord of their tribe, and if Peregrine ever challenged him, he could be Blood Lord instead.

When Peregrine's nephew is kidnapped by the Pod dwellers and Aria is tossed into the Death Shop, these two strangers bred to hate each other must help each other restore their honor and get back the things they've lost. If it isn't too late already....

I might as well tell you, this is a pretty standard romance from a purely plot-oriented point of view. Two people who can't stand each other eventually fall in love after forced time together. But what makes it worth reading are the details. The story implies that it takes place at a time in our future, on our own world, but because of the evolutionary changes, there are elements of fantasy. The world is detailed beautifully, and one can see how the author was an artist before she became a writer, as she admits. The characters are fascinating with intriguing motivation behind their actions, and characters usually are the main reason I like or dislike a book. Granted, these characters are more attractive than most people are in real life, which panders to young adult vanity. A minor flaw to some eyes, perhaps.

There are other flaws which don't make the book less interesting but which do make it less well-written, I suppose. There is more than one scene where someone comes to the rescue just in time and kills all the bad guys. It happens enough to make it seem like the author is pulling punches, adding as much danger as she can and then bringing in someone with special powers to take care of it all...bordering on Deus ex machina happy endings. It cheats the reader a little.

Morally, the book is not as sound as I would like it to be. Though nothing is graphically depicted, the main male character, 18 years old, is portrayed as something of a ladies' man. He has slept with at least two other girls that we know about with no intention of anything more serious because he believes he has to marry a girl with the same heightened senses as his in order to keep the blood lines strong. This casual attitude toward sex, particularly in a young adult novel, always bothers me. It's not right in the real world, but even though it sometimes makes a weird kind of sense in a dystopian novel (and I'm not saying it does in this one), that doesn't make it right in fiction either. People, girls particularly, live vicariously through what they read, and that kind of stuff gives them a desire for something that's not good.

One other thing I noticed was the amount of violence and killing in the book. This makes more sense in this kind of story, but our 18-year-old hero was killing people left and right, including (SPOILER ALERT) an important relative. It didn't sit right with me, particularly at the end of the book. That one bothered me the most. Trying to be mildly vague here. Normally, I wouldn't mind too much, particularly in fantasy where the villains are truly evil. In this case, the killing was done partially to survive, but what bothered me was the killing done mostly for cultural reasons. It just wasn't right.

Well, this is one of those books where the romance comes to a mostly satisfactory end but the plot does not, indicating a series is to follow. I am interested in reading the rest of the series, despite the book's flaws, because it really is a fun story with plenty of danger, adventure, and romance.

Four stars for readability, brought down to three stars for questionable morality. Comes out in February 2012.

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