Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig (Skyscape, July 2013)-Cael McAvoy and his friends live in the Heartland, where corn grows in spades, but Heartland’s people can’t eat it. In fact, some would say the corn is alive. One thing is for sure, it fuels everything that the Empyreans need, in their kingdom in the clouds, while Heartland’s citizens survive on scraps, because the land can’t grow anything else. Cael is, however, captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, and they’re pretty darn good at what they do, even if the mayor’s son and his crew constantly try to sabotage them. Life is hard, but not terrible, until the love of his life, Gwennie, gets Obligated to someone else, someone he hates. Soon, however, Cael and his friends discover a patch of fresh veggies and fruit growing amidst the corn, and what it signifies could change the lives of the Heartlanders, but what to do? If Cael thought life was interesting before, it’s about to get downright scary, and it certainly doesn’t help that his sister has run away, leaving him with a father that he feels does nothing to help the family and a mother who is crippled by tumors.
Most of you know by now that I love anything that Chuck Wendig writes, and his first foray into YA is a winner, inside and out. I love the world of the Heartland, where corn will attack you if you linger too long in the fields and the Blight can strike anyone at any time, causing horrible mutations and, sometimes, insanity. If you’re already a fan of his work, you know how good Wendig is at imagery, and it’s on fine display here, in this post- apocalyptic world that echoes, in some ways, the Wild West, but with hoverboards and of course, killer corn. Perhaps among one of the creepiest elements of this book is the Lottery, which one family wins every year, awarding the winner a trip to the sky, to live in promised luxury. Yet, the reader gets the distinct impression that heading to the clouds may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but you won’t find out in this installment. Since Cael’s sister has hitched a ride into the sky, I’m sure we’ll find out more in the next book, but the wait will be excruciating, at least for this reader. If you like your dystopian heavy on the creepy, with plenty of rebellious and strong characters, you’re in for a real treat. This one will appeal to teens and adults alike, and it’s not to be missed!