Title: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Review: In a world where the sky is blighted by a never ending lethal torrent called Aether, mankind has split into two factions – those who have chosen to live their entire lives in eco-sealed pods supported by technological innovation away from the Aether’s devastating reach, and those who have spurned life indoors and choose to embrace the world outside and the dangers the Aether may bring. In the pod city of Reverie, Aria lives a quiet, sheltered life with her mother Lumina, where they have all the comforts of a technologically advanced society. In Reverie, just like every other pod city, while humans may have limited physical quarters and mobility, they escape drudgery by accessing the virtual worlds of “The Realms” through their visual biological implants (called Smarteyes). When Lumina is transported to another pod city to continue genetic research and Aria doesn’t hear from her mother for over a week, though, her quiet world is shattered irreparably and she makes a decision to reach Lumina that will change everything.
Outside the Eloi-like existence of those in the pods with their placid, plugged-in lives, Peregrine’s world is one of brutal, unforgiving reality. In the realm outside the bubble-like pods, winters are harsh and Aether storms raze entire crop yields and villages. Perry’s tribe, the Tides, prepares for the coming cold but struggles without a shortage of food, gradual sickness, and fractured leadership. The Tides’ Blood Lord is Perry’s grieving older brother, and Perry must control his urge for dominance of the tribe – and with his dual gifts for scenting others’ emotions (“tempers”) and his ability to see great distances even at night, Perry’s urge for power is strong indeed – in order to preserve their already fractured relationship. When Perry’s nephew is abducted by men from the pod cities, Perry vows he will do anything to get him back and leaves the Tides, perhaps for good.
Along the way, Perry and Aria’s paths will cross, and they two will stumble upon a shocking truth that will define and change both of their worlds forever.
At first glance, Under the Never Sky is a whole bunch of the familiar, as the book uses many tropes of which I am not a huge fan. There are quite a few things that bother me about the book – namely the lack of scientific background, the lack of actual answers (what the heck is the Aether, anyways?), and the silly sounding technology (A “Smarteye”, really?). The narrative style for the novel is also unappealing, as it uses the increasingly popular alternating heroine/hero chapter perspective. There’s also the more significant problem that the high-tech component of the world doesn’t actually make sense – how exactly is it that people in pod cities like Reverie exist in the real world and spend all their time in the realms? Why would these people bother with walking around at all if they are plugged in for literally every second of their lives? How are these people walking around yet simultaneously navigating virtual worlds? Why bother engineering physical genetic traits when one can make themselves look like anything in the Realms? SO many grating inconsistencies.
And yet, despite all my criticisms…I found myself truly enjoying the book.
As I’ve said above, the concept of a hi-meets-low-tech dystopia isn’t particularly new or novel – see Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy – but it is one of my personal favorite tropes, especially in science fiction. And, to Under the Never Sky‘s credit, once the story shifts from the city of Reverie and moves to the outside world, it’s easy to put scepticism behind and get caught up in the journey of Aria and Perry as they struggle to save the people they love. I loved the brutality of Outside and the frightening power and unpredictability of the Aether (even if we never really learn what it actually is or why the sky is blighted by it), the scarceness of food, and the dangers faced by other tribes (including cannibal tribes, naturally). I actually think Under the Never Sky succeeds more as a fantasy novel, as opposed to a science fiction one. The powers that Perry has and the mutations that other Outsiders have developed because of their exposure to Aether have a greater similarity to magical powers than to science, and that’s perfectly fine – the detail of Perry’s ability to scent ‘tempers’ and the slew of other tactile gifts was one of my favorite aspects of the novel. The other believable, well-executed aspect of the story was the bitterness between outsiders and pod-dwellers. To Aria and her ilk, those who live outside are “savages”; to Perry and his brethren, those who live their rotting lives indoors are “moles”.
Which brings me to my next point. Beyond the plotting and world, I think the thing that won me over the most with this book is the decided lack of the dreaded instar-love. Of course, obviously, Perry and Aria do eventually fall in love – but they don’t fall in love right away, which surprised me. I liked that Aria is rightfully, sanely scared out of her mind by Perry for the majority of the book (and there isn’t any fawning over his lusty good looks, either). There’s mutual distrust and fear on the part of both protagonists as they come from two different worlds that hate and distrust each other, and it’s only after enduring so much hardship together that the two begin to understand, respect, and only then grow to love each other. And I believed the love story and kind of fell for both Aria and Perry – what can I say? Maybe I’m not as jaded as I thought I was. I love Aria’s quick thinking and tenacity, just as I loved Perry’s unwavering dedication.
Ending on a high note that thankfully isn’t a bitter cliff-hanger, I found myself surprisingly enamoured with this book. I cannot wait for Through the Ever Night.
Buy it here:
Kindle Edition: amazon.co.uk