Under the Empyrean Sky is set in a post apocalyptic world where the use of genetically modified corn by the government/ruling class has left much of farmer population little more than slaves. This new corn does not just deplete the nutrients from the soil but the actual organism is physically aggressive and able to attack animals. The government agricultural policy, implemented by the mayor and the police force, prohibits the planting of any other crops and strictly regulates trade. Not everyone lives in these poor conditions - the upper classes live in flotillas far above the farm areas. They're not required to work the land, not subjected to hazardous pollen storms or the dangers of being near the corn.
The hero of the piece is a teenage boy, Cael McAvoy who with his group of friends, competes with Boyland, the mayor's son, to scavenge and trade whatever treasures they might find. Cael and his group have little resources, threadbare equipment, weak trading connections, and are often picked on. Cael does have Gwennie, the love interest, and the top person in his crew.
There are two annual scheduled events in this world that are particularly significant. First, the Harvest during which young men and women are paired together, effectively, a government organized engagement. It appears that there is no way to request a mate in advance or to ask that the pairing be changed. The actual marriage is supposed to occur within a year of the "Harvest". Second, is the Lottery during which the government selects one family from below to move up to a privileged and protected life in the flotillas.
Cael must find a way to feed his family and keep his group together even as his resources and allies decrease. He does have one stroke of luck when he comes across a hidden garden full of prohibited produce - tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, all sorts of wonders.
I found Under the Empyrean Sky slow at the start. I'd hoped for more action and less detail on the invasive corn. But the corn is critical to this new world and the story, so I may have been a bit too impatient and take part of the blame. It takes the middle of the story and learning about Cael's family before I start to care about him and his friends. Under the Empryean Sky strikes me as a carefully plotted novel/series and I expect that the second book will be particularly interesting as we learn what life is like for the lucky people living in the flotillas. I wasn't that drawn into the world of The Heartland Trilogy and will likely pass on the next two books.
ISBN-10: 1477817204 - Hardcover $17.99
Publisher: Skyscape (July 30, 2013), 354 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.
About the Author:
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He's the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.