Under The Empyrean Sky: A Country Version of Metropolis that We Never Knew We Needed
Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
So I have a new job where I am a soil lab technician. And for strength testing soils, the machine does most of the work and I am waiting for the test to be done. While these test are taking place, I have roughly forty minutes of down time and to keep my sanity from the tedium I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’m moving pretty quickly through my back log of novels. And as I’m coming close to the end of that list I had to start looking for something new. When I went on Amazon’s Kindle store, they once again shoved the Heartland Trilogy in my face. For at least a couple years the Amazon algorithm has been recommending these books like crazy, and I have always passed. It looked like yet another young adult post-apocalyptic tale destined to disappoint. But I can’t afford to buy full price books at the rate I am reading with this job, so I finally decided to give this a try. Here is the review of Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.
So what is this story about? The book takes place in a future America. Presumably central United States. The heartland is overrun with a bioengineered fast growing corn. The people’s job in the Heartland is to harvest this mutant inedible corn for the floating rich empyrean city in the sky. Think of it as a country version of Metropolis. And of course like always, these people on the ground are barely scrapping by with the rations and are abused from the city up above. It follows teenager Cael and his friends who try to help their families by scavenging the land for crashed harvesting crafts and relics of the old world. But after losing a scavenge of scraps to the mayor's son, a bully he hates with all of his being, he and his friends stumble across a garden of illegal crops. These crops include bell peppers, apples, oranges and whatnot. And they see dollar signs and intend to get rich. They can sell it on the black market. But since their boat crashed with their last encounter with the mayor’s son, they have to get a new boat first,
And so begins Cael’s big plan to get rich, but things soon get in the way. The Heartland does the annual required of pairing of teenagers of age seventeen as mandated by the cities above. And the Empyrean decides who goes with who and Cael loses the love of his life to the mayor’s son as he is paired with a naïve girl he doesn’t know. A great pollen storm hits the heartland during his whole plan. The mayor hates Cael’s family so much that he is constantly trying to catch them breaking Empyrean law. Cael’s sister runs away. Then a city that has been quarantined for decades open up containing secrets that challenges everything he thought he knew about the world.
The good? First of all, this is a book that grows out of small beginnings. It starts as something simple like the daily routine of life and it becomes an epic toward the end. Also I like the characters. They have layers and are different. I mean at first I didn’t like Cael. He’s hot headed, temperamental, a bit of a numb skull and is crude. But then it dawned on me, he’s acting like an arrogant dumb teenager and that’s more realistic than most books portray teenagers. For years, at least recently, fantasy and scifi novels have portrayed teenage boys as innocent as can be and that is just not true in real life. Cael drinks, curses, has sex and do all the things I typically don’t see in very many novels, especially with teenagers. But seeing this sort of person as the lead began to grown on me, especially as Cael slowly becomes more mature throughout the book. And it will be fascinating to see how this impulsive hot head is going to be the main hero in the future novels. The rest of the cast is great as well. The world building is fantastic and the detail is so vivid everything can be pictured in the reader’s head and the imagination is spectacular. Also another thing I must applaud the book for is that this is written in present tense and written very well. Since the Hunger Games there has been a flood of dystopia novels written in present tense that were written poorly. They lack so much detail and were so quick placed that they were dull and hard to follow. Basically they were all poorly written, trying to follow the trend of the Hunger Games, which in my opinion was not written all that well in the first place. But this is the first book in years written in present tense which is told in a spectacularly well written fashion. And speaking of young adult novels, despite the facts the set with teenage leads in a dystopia this is not by any means a YA novel like it appears to be from the cover. It’s dark, violent and has adult themes. Not too adult like the Games of Thrones or anything, but adult enough that parents would not like handing this to their young kinds.
So that bad? Well the book is such a great surprise and well written, than it’s hard to complain. But there was a couple small things. When this book began, the descriptors were quite crude. At one point a bell pepper was even described as a plump juicy woman’s breast. It was strange off putting and while not offensive, it was uncomfortable. But as the book goes on and Cael is faces with more dilemmas and matures a little bit, those descriptors began to fade away.Toward the end of the book it dawned on me that as much as I didn’t like these descriptors, they served a purpose. This is told from Cael’s point of view and as the story went along Cael became less of a horny dumb teenager to potential hero. He does some growing up. But regardless of this creative way of portraying a character arc, some people may not appreciate the descriptors early on.
Overall, the Amazon Kindle store algorithm was right. This is a great book. Actually it’s an amazing book. The world is amazing. The characters are unique. The imagination here creates an amazing tale with an ending where the sky is the limit in the future novels. It’s just a really great ride on par with The Golden Compass, Bear and the Nightingale and other greatest scifi fantasies out there. Least to say, this is a must read. Go ahead and read it. It’s one of the best scifi tales out there.
4 smoothies out of Four
Overall Rating: A Country Version of Metropolis that We Never Knew We Needed.