Blightborn by Chuck Wendig (Skyscape, July 2014)-WARNING: If you haven’t read Under the Empyrean Sky, you may want to skip this review, since contains inevitable spoilers (although not much more than you can read in the back cover copy for Blightborn) for Under the Empyrean Sky. You’ve been warned!
In Under the Empyrean Sky, we were introduced to the homespun, very earthy realities of the Heartland, a landscape firmly under the Empyrean’s thumb, or so we thought. In Blightborn, we’re simultaneously immersed in the glittering, very often debauched skyscape of the Ormond Sterling Saranyu, a flotilla of great wealth and dark desires. Cael McAvoy is determined to get Gwennie back, but to do that, he’s got to hitch a ride on the flotilla somehow, and that’s not going to be easy. He’s also got his Obligated, Wanda, on his tail, along with Boyland (Gwennie’s Obligated), who genuinely loves Gwennie and doesn’t plan on letting Cael get to her. Meanwhile, Gwennie is mucking Pegasus stalls under the eye of Balastair Harrington, a geneticist tasked with creating the perfect Pegasus for the Empyrean. Winning the Lottery didn’t yield the riches promised to Gwennie and her family, and all Gwennie cares about is rescuing her family and getting off the Empyrean flotilla. However, rebellion is brewing, in the air and on the ground, and it will prove to throw everyone’s best laid plans into a whirlwind of violence and betrayel.
Chuck Wendig has done something so wonderful with this series. The worlds of the Heartland and the Empyrean are starkly different, certainly the most extreme ends of have/have not. It’s a timely, and timeless theme, but he’s taken it into new, highly creative territory, and lucky us for getting to go along for the ride. This series features young adults, and it’s aimed at a younger audience, however, Wendig never, ever talks down to his readers and he manages to explore some important teen concerns, and the reality of being a teen in any situation, without heading into cliché territory. Cael is a hero to root for, to be sure, but this is not his book, it’s a group affair, and the supporting cast is as well rounded as the main players. Merelda, Cael’s runaway sister starts the book as an insufferable fool, dazzled by the opulent offerings of the Empyrean, but you won’t think her a fool by book’s end. Lane and Rigo are stalwart friends to Cael, but although they’re loyal, they’re not blinded by that friendship, and they have their own dreams and motivations. This book is an obvious set up to the next really big stage in this series, and that’s ok. The glitter and excess of the Empyrean flotillas do much to offset the blasted, diseased landscape of the Heartland, and the people that toil there, but if you think that all Empyreans are painted as “bad”, and all Heartlanders as “good”, think again. Nothing is black and white in this world and the complex motivations of the characters are just one part of what makes this a must read series.
Adults and teens alike will find much to love in this series, and Wendig’s imagination knows no bounds. It’s dark, action-packed, fantastical dystopia of the best kind, and I can’t help but think Book 3 will be quite a corker. Not to be missed!