Under the Empyrean Sky is the story of Cael and his friends, Rigo and Lane. They live in the Heartland, an agrarian world of genetically modified corn where no other crops thrive because of the aggressiveness of the new crop. There is little to no opportunity for education or work because the Empyreans, a separate section of their society that cruises overhead on their giant, flying machines, controls every aspect of their life from the food that they eat to who they can marry. Cael is the head of a scavenger crew who, in the course of their work day, stumbles across a forbidden garden and their lives change course forever.
This story was exciting. From the first scene of a race between scavenger crews for a malfunctioning piece of farm equipment to the end with an inevitable clash with the Empyrean, the story unfolds at a breakneck pace. If Cael isn’t dodging the local Overseers, he’s sneaking into quarantined cities or trying to harvest illicit vegetables. I loved how this novel was nearly constant action.
The dystopian world that Wendig creates feels scary and out of control. The plants, that the Heartlanders are forced to cultivate, attack them. The Empyreans, who aren’t properly introduced in this novel but I assume that they will be in future books, are outlandishly rich, extremely powerful through their advanced technology, and completely removed from the reality on the ground. The local authorities take advantage of the power of their position to line their own pockets at the expense of their neighbors. The reader feels Cael’s fury at his inability to control his life and the unfairness of the situation into which he was born.
It’s a small thing, but I didn’t like how the first half of the book was told nearly exclusively from Cael’s point of view and then towards the second half, the viewpoint began to bounce around between Cael and his friends. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the narrator had remained the same throughout or had switched around from the beginning.
Another small complaint about the story is that the Empyrean lottery to join the ruling class on their air ships felt a lot like The Hunger Games or The Giver but with the outcome being presumably positive instead of a death match. Maybe it’s time for YA dystopian literature to move away from the lottery scenario.
That being said, fans of The Hunger Games or other survival/dystopian stories may really enjoy Under the Empyrean Sky. It’s fast-paced and surprising in its twists and turns. I sincerely hope that Cael’s story turns out well, but with the enormous odds stacked against him, it seems almost impossible that it could. I guess I’ll have to read the next book and find out.
I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program.
Thanks for reading!