Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi

UNDER THE NEVER SKY, Veronica Rossi, HarperTeen
Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.
Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.
A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky. 

UNDER THE NEVER SKY is a dystopian third-person dual narrative. To be honest, when I read the description, I wasn't very interested. I hate switching to different perspectives, the whole girl-from-a-supposed-utopia-goes-to-the-wild trope is getting a little old, and I figured I knew exactly how the relationship between the two characters was going to play out. He's a jerk, she gets feisty, aw he's a wounded soul, smoochie smoochie smoochie, the end. I was right... and I was very, very wrong.

The official description quoted above does the book a great injustice. The best taste of the book comes from my favorite quote, found on page 125: 
"Do the clouds ever completely clear?" she asked.
"Completely? No. Never."
"What about the Aether? Does that ever go away?"
"Never, Mole. The Aether never leaves."
She looked up. "A world of nevers under a never sky."
She fit in well then, he thought. A girl who never shut up.
That's Aria, inquisitive to the point of irritation, intellectually curious, artsy, and poetic. And that's Perry, rough, blunt, and dry.

The book opens with Aria. Unfortunately, it also opens with a heaping handful of other named characters that I wasn't inclined to care about. Because of the description, I knew she was going to be exiled at some point, and seeing as the first scene is about a group of teenagers about to do something mind-boggling risky and stupid, I figured this "something" was going to be the impetus for the exile. I'm not going to put spoiler tags around that, because it's a bit of a no-brainer. And since I knew she was going to be exiled and therefore unlikely to see any of these other teenagers again, I REALLY didn't care who they were.

Luckily, Rossi finds her stride fairly quickly. The unimportant teenagers are a teensy bit important, because the lead teenager, Soren, is Aria's link to finding her mother, with whom she lost contact several days prior. What's supposed to be a fact-finding mission disguised as a rollicking good adventure in a forbidden area soon devolves into something primal and savage. Tragedy and mayhem ensues, leading to Aria's rescue by a mysterious Outsider who then disappears, and ends with Aria's banishment.

That synopsis might seem a bit dismissive, but only because it is. Aria is fine in her own right, but my heart beats for Peregrine (aka, Perry), the hunky Outsider who saves her not only in the teenage mayhem but also when he finds her exiled and trapped in the middle of an Aether storm. Despite their mutual distrust of and disgust for each other, the two reluctantly join forces to help Aria return home - Aria to clear her name and find her mother, and Peregrine to save his nephew, who was kidnapped by Dweller soldiers.

And snap diddley, does it take off from there! By switching back and forth between perspectives, each character serves as our eyes into a world we don't understand. Through Aria, the girl who finds the Aether fascinating and the fact that fingernails can grow bewildering, we learn about the world inside the pods and the Matrix-meets-Genetics-101 reality she thinks of as normal. Through Perry, younger brother of the tribe's Blood Lord, we learn about the harsh, unbending reality of the outside, where madmen and cannibals roam and a chosen few wield almost supernaturally enhanced senses. Each knows of the other world only what they've learned through legend, which can carry a shocking degree of truth amid the lies.

There were details that irritated me. The very fantasy-like Aether and its effect on Outsiders is never really explained, though the world of NEVER SKY is supposed to be a future version of our own world. Also, Rossi serves up some common stereotypes (of COURSE the heroine of the story can sing like an angel; of COURSE the hero has a rare and valuable skill set) that make me grit my teeth every time I see them in a book. However, the negatives are more than counterbalanced by the positives. Charming and charismatic cannibals that have an established reason for being cannibals? Check! A Jacob-and-baby-in-Twlight type of bond that is NOT solely romantic? Check! A character named PEREGRINE?! Check! (Although I did mumble "Fool of a Took" in certain sections.) Best of all, like other clever authors before her, Rossi shows she is unafraid to kill off a character just because it is expected that she won't.

While the story was in part predictable (the relationship model I expected between Aria and Peregrine? Yeah, it was pretty much like that), Rossi managed to avoid a purely stereotypical ending and left enough valid, compelling loose ends (both plot-wise and character-wise) that a sequel is inevitable and welcome. I look forward to meeting an ever-maturing Aria and an ever-hunky Peregrine in their next episode of their continuing adventure, as well as their array of supporting characters (I won't mention names, as I've already mentioned that she does kill off someone(s).)

Points Added For: Charismatic cannibals (I squee with joy just typing it), hunky boys who genuinely love kids, main characters older than the obligatory 16, pyromania, sensible Jacob-and-babying (here called "rendering"), characters with cool names, "fables" that actually have some truth to them.

Points Subtracted For: Unimportant minor characters (Brooke, grrrr), super-Aether in an otherwise realistic world, missing/dead/abusive parents, girls whose main claim to fame is singing.

Good For Fans Of: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hunger Games by Susanne Collins, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (I view the Dwellers as ancestors of both the Eloi and the Morlocks).

Points For Parents: Mild-to-moderate language (semi-frequent use of the word b*stard), non-explicit sex, non-explicit supposed attempted rape (nothing graphic and no actual rape), violence.

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