My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cael lives in the Heartland, the vast stretch of country that once was home to many farms, family owned and growing everything that could be farmed. Now, it is all owned by the Empyrean, and the only crop that is grown is genetically engineered corn, which is used to make the corn syrup that provides the wealth to keep the Empyrean flotillas floating high above the common people. Cael and his crew of scavengers are out on their ship, looking for old machinery and parts to sell when they discover a secret garden of illegal vegetables. Cael sees the bounty as his way out of the dismal existence the Empyrean forces the Heartlanders to endure. Instead, he finds a rebellion, a new connection to family, and the chance to make a difference.
I read recently that Wendig considers himself a horror writer. I don’t know if I would say that for all his work, although some definitely has a creepy aspect. This dystopian tale perhaps walks a line that comes close to horror, with its not-quite-sentient-but-certainly-aware engineered corn, and the Blight, a disease that turns people into almost plants. It’s quite an interesting concept, and touches on many of today’s controversial issues in both climate and food production. And it paints a somewhat scary picture. But not one without hope. That sliver of light does exist to push Cael and his friends on, even when they don’t realize it.
The plot moves quickly once it gets going. It is a bit slow at the front end, but once the story is set-up, it gains momentum. Characters are well written, if not exceptional. The setting is the star here, at least for me. The Heartland is bleak and unfriendly. The people who are little more than forced labor for the Empyrean rulers are hard and tough. Most have a fatalistic attitude about everything. The Empyrean flotillas are like distant stars- too far to touch, a dream of wealth and power that most on the ground can never achieve. There is some mention of sex, but nothing explicit. The books are aimed at older teenagers, so that is not unexpected. There is also a fair bit of cursing, but, again, teenagers do curse, and, if you have read any of Wendig’s other books, the language should not be a surprise.
All in all, this was a good read and sets up the next book nicely.
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