Sunday, October 14, 2018

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

🦇 Read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers Halloween 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of: A post-apocalyptic romance 🦇

When it comes to genres with a lot of hype, like romance and YA, there's a bit of an "Emperor's new clothes" phenomenon in that some people just seem to get sucked up into all of the praise and excitement and end up rating the book higher because of how their experience of reading it ties into the crowd mentality. I also think that with some of the so-called "brainy" books, people mistake confusion for intricacy. How else to explain why so many people thought LOST was brilliant? (Sorry if you like LOST.)

UNDER THE NEVER SKY has a bit of both when it comes to these two phenomenons. It came hot on the coattails of THE HUNGER GAMES's dystopian popularity, and despite its incredibly shoddy world-building (which I'll be talking about shortly), people have been praising it for being complex. Um, maybe, but that doesn't necessarily mean good. A knot can be complex, but if your instructions were supposed to be a bow and you did a knot anyway, and nobody around you can untangle it, you didn't really do what you were told to do, and it defeats the purpose.

UNDER THE NEVER SKY is set in a post-apocalyptic world, on what I'm assuming is Earth. The sky is full of something called "Aether," which I'm guessing is a solar storm. I'm also guessing that being in such close proximity to these probably-radioactive (again, never explicitly spelled-out) rays forced humanity into hiding. The heroine, Aria, is one of these: her people are the Dwellers and they live in pods that shield them from the desert and the skies, and to keep from growing insanely bored they have retreated into virtual reality worlds called Realms for their entertainment.

On the other hand, you have Outsiders, or people who don't live in the pods and continue to forage in the ruins of humanity like hunter-gatherers. Dwellers derogatorily refer to them as Savages. They are tattooed, and a lot of them have X-Men-like powers, which I think they refer to as Scires. The hero, Perry, is one of these. He has two superpowers, the ability to smell "tempers," or emotions, and acute vision. If this sounds familiar, yeah, it's a bit like what happened in THE DARKEST MINDS, and I'm guessing it's because of radiation that humans ended up evolving like this, because what other explanation is there? The author certainly didn't provide insight into how humanity diverged, or why.

The story kicks off when a bunch of teens go out to be wild, as teens do, and Aria ends up taking the fall for the leader's son. She gets kicked out of her pod, and left to die in the desert. Here, she meets Perry, who saved her from death already. The way she treats him is pretty awful and until they suddenly decide they are in love, both of them basically hate each others' guts. Aria thinks he's a meanie savage and Perry thinks she's an over-entitled shit who is too stupid to live. I must admit, my sympathies lay more with Perry - especially when Aria plunges headfirst into a coven of cannibals.

I've read a lot of YA dystopian novels and I think UNDER THE NEVER SKY has more in common with the bad ones than the good ones. THE DARKEST MINDS and SHATTER ME also featured dumb-as-dirt heroines in dystopian/post-apoc worlds where humans suddenly developed super powers for no apparent reason, and in both of those books as well as this one, the lazy world-building ruined the story for me because the abundance of plotholes kept pulling me out of the story to ask, "WHY?" I also think that if you're going to write a post-apocalyptic novel, you need to answer the hows and whys of how the world was destroyed. This is a qualm I had about the Ritchie sisters' THE RAGING ONES, where both the timeline of the inciting event and the world-building are equally unclear. You can have post-apocalyptic novels where the end world has little in common with the original. I think one of the crowning examples of this is A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, which is told in three parts, and features society rebuilding itself in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, first as hunter-gatherers, then as a Medieval society, and then, if I remember correctly, as a futuristic one. Margaret Atwood's MaddAdam trilogy is another example, where genetic and technologic manipulation have basically caused society to implode, warping the natural into the unnatural. But both of these books, which I liked incidentally, had solid answers for the hows and the whys.

UNDER THE NEVER SKY has some interesting ideas but fails to execute them properly. Too many things were left unanswered, and the story was not really all that different from other HUNGER GAMES copycats who wanted to create that same dystopian environment without adding the same amount of stakes, world-building, or character development. The result? A painful drag of a read.

2 out of 5 stars

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