July 21, 2014 by mmileti
Under the Empyrean Sky is a dystopian novel and the first installment in the Heartland Trilogy. Though the dystopian future has recently become an extremely popular trope, Wendig’s novel stands apart from the rest with a very unique vision of our planet’s future. The story holds an environmental message at its heart, and tackles the issues of genetic modification, the use of pesticides, and the dangers of letting a single crop and the megacorporations that regulate it control the vast majority of the food market. Wendig manages to incorporate his message into a wonderful story that is filled with well-developed characters and a fast paced plot that leaves the reader on the edge of her seat. It is a dystopian novel with real heart, and is one of the best books I have read in the science fiction genre in quite a while.
The story follows the story of Cael McAvoy, a teenage boy who lives in a small town in the middle of a sea of corn. Cael’s town is part of the Heartland, which is ruled by the Empyrean government. The Empyrean’s have everything; they live in cities that float above the earth, and are privy to all the comforts that one can dream of. But the Heartland is only allowed to grow on crop: corn, and their entire lives revolve around it. The corn is so genetically modified that it is extremely aggressive, and between the fight to keep the corn from overrunning their homes and the consumption of the corn and its bi-products, the people of Heartland are often riddled with tumors, growths and deformities. Ceal and his friends are extremely tired of living life on the ground, and coming up soon is the Obligation Ceremony where the government will choose their spouses for them. Cael is already in love, and he knows the odds are extremely good that he will lose his Gwennie forever. Cael realizes that in order to live the life he wants, he will have to make his own luck, even if it means defying the privileged Empyreans. But how will he fight against people who have everything? And even if he does succeed, what will happen to his family and his home when he brings the wrath of the Empyreans to the Heartland?
Under the Empyrean Sky contains many of the aspects that people look for in a dystopian novel. There is an enormous gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” there is an all-powerful government that manages to control every aspect of its citizens lives, and there is even a love story between two people who are not allowed to be together. But Wendig adds so many other elements to this novel that I believe it will please both those looking for a familiar dystopian story and those who are looking to read something a bit more unique. It is very easy to become absorbed in Cael’s world, and it is the details of this world that made the story especially enjoyable for me. I also liked Wendig’s ability to write characters that the reader cares about. Even though there were not many characters that were morally ambiguous, or that took a while to gain the reader’s loyalty, I found myself rooting for the protagonists and loathing the antagonists.
Despite the novel’s environmental message, this is not the kind of story that is written to challenge the reader with flowing prose and enigmatic plot lines. It is a fun read which is set in a captivating world, and it still manages to make the reader think about the environmental ramifications of the way we grow and purchase our food. The plot stays consistently engaging, with no real slow points to the story. I also found the novel to be well written, and it is perfect for anyone that wants an easy and enjoyable read.
Overall, I would rate this book a 7.75/10.