First impressions: Heart-pumping action gets things moving right away in this sci-fi space adventure. Waverly's ship, the Empyrean, comes under attack almost immediately, just as she's trying to navigate the pressures of her boyfriend Kieran's proposal.
Lasting impressions: I was disappointed in the black-and-white outlook of this one, with very little gray area explored.
Conflicting impressions: Some of the moral issues Ryan tackles throughout the novel had very little nuance. The religious zealotry and adolescent boy power struggles particularly left me cold.
Overall impressions: There's something to be said for a book that you already know you're not enjoying, yet compels you to keep reading it anyway. This was one of those books.
Very early on, I knew I wasn't connecting with Waverly, and the choices made by almost every single character frustrated me. Yet I kept reading. The action is incredibly well-written, with the pace pushing you page after page, until the next thing you know, you're halfway through the book. Too bad the entire time I was reading it, I was growing more and more horrified by the ugly and unsympathetic characters.
Kieran is a nice enough boy, but he lacks any real leadership skills, despite being set to inherit the ship from the captain. Seth is set up as an interesting counterpoint in a potential love triangle, but the minute he's left alone with Kieran the two of them duke it out in an over-the-top power competition where they torture each other. Without any accompanying backstory, we have no other frame from which to analyze their actions, leaving the reader stuck watching two boys do very bad things without any understanding of why they're doing them.
*very slight spoiler alert!* Over on the New Horizon, Waverly is doing the best she can to take charge of the girls who have all been kidnapped from the Empyrean. *end spoiler* Waverly turns out to be a mostly effective leader, who questions what she is told by the adults around her, and strives to rescue her friends and family that were attacked by the New Horizon's crew. She meets their captain, Pastor Anne Mather, who is nothing but a shrill old woman who uses religion to control her ship's passengers.
Pastor Mather could have her own post entirely. She is a villain for whom Ryan creates a sympathetic angle (years of misogyny and abuse by the male elite), yet her actions are so indefensible that I couldn't possibly side with her. The answer to violence and oppression is never more violence and oppression. This is something Waverly begins to understand while interacting with Mather, and I suspect it will be explored in future books.
Given how much I disliked the experience of reading this pessimistic, depressing tale, I worried I wouldn't finish it, or would give it one measly star. However, the dramatic action and the fact that I had such visceral reactions to the material made me realize that it was probably just not the book for me. I think there are plenty of people that would eat this one up with the vivid characterizations and interesting plot around the power of religion and fertility in human development, but in my opinion, this one fell flat.
Rating: 2/5 stars