Recommendation Tuesday: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.
This week, I'm excited to recommend the cornpunk dystopian adventure Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig, the first in his Heartland Trilogy.
Think you're burned out on dystopian stories because they are all kind of the same? Well this one is completely different and unforgettable.
I've been doing a trial of Kindle Unlimited (I'll write a post about my experience with it later) and the first thing I snagged was Chuck Wendig's Under the Empyrean Sky for four reasons:
- I wanted to try out the text-audio sync thing that was promised and it was the first book on my to-read list that had the feature in the KU offerings.
- I've read Chuck's blog for ages and really enjoy it--it's one I annoy my husband with by reading it out loud.
- Laura loves Chuck's Miriam Black series, which is being developed for television by STARZ. It's a known fact that Laura has outstanding taste.
- I wanted to find out WTF cornpunk was.
Unlike many dystopian-ish novels, Under the Empyrean Sky has some pretty ace world-building. Cael, the protagonist, lives in a future midwest America controlled by the Empyrean, who live with the privileged classes in sky flotillas (think an Elysium-like scenario but without the problematic female characters). Cael and his family live in the Heartland, where they're only allowed to grow corn. This corn is effing terrifying too--it's been genetically modified to the point it's almost sentient. The Heartlanders travel on boats atop the corn, and corn rules every facet of their lives.
At 17, Cael is working as a scavenger, leading a crew of teenagers, his weapon of choice his trusty slingshot. They'll soon be assigned spouses and eventually jobs, but for now they're a motley crew of bandits. Cael's girlfriend Gwennie is his first mate and one of the stars of the book in my eyes. Even though her scenes are relatively few, she's smart and tough and I was completely on her side when Cael screws up big-time. There's a lot more Gwennie in the sequel (thus far) and there's a whole short story devoted to her as well.
I mostly listened to the audiobook edition of Under the Empyrean Sky and this was an excellent decision on my part. I hadn't listen to anything by this narrator, Nick Podehl, before, but apparently he's pretty popular, having voiced Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan and ton of other well-known YA and romance novels. Sometimes third-person, especially third-person present, in audio format can be a bit distancing, but Podehl's pacing and tone was perfect and he nailed the off-beat humor perfectly.
Speaking of the humor, even though this is a pretty high-stakes situation for Cael and his friends and family, there's no dearth of humor in Under the Empyrean Sky. There's an absurd quality to what the Heartlanders deal with in their daily lives, and Wendig milks that batshit craziness for a satisfying amount of snort-laughs.
Finally, I'd be remiss in not mentioning that there's a great coming out scene in this book--everything about it was great. It's worth reading just for that moment. (Though there are lots of other great reasons too, in case you haven't picked that up from my extremely enthusiastic endorsement.)
I've been recommending Under the Empyrean Sky like crazy since I finished it--it's got appeal for lots of types of readers, so if you're searching for something quickly paced and engrossing, snatch this one up, pronto.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book ages ago, but read this using my own Kindle Unlimited subscription.