This review was first published in the Underground Writers zine issue 31: Sci-Fi
In the first book of the latest series from dream team Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, top student of Aurora Academy, Tyler Jones, should have had first choice of students to create a stellar team of mission-ready recruits. Instead, his unorthodox rescue of Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, who has been stuck in cryo-sleep for two centuries in interdimensional space, means he’s stuck with a group of misfits no one else wanted. But Aurora’s rescue has raised questions, questions someone doesn’t want asked, and they’re coming for her. Tyler must decide what’s most important to him and find a way to work through his team’s sarcasm, anger management, and superiority complexes if they’re going to unravel this mystery and save Aurora’s life.
Kaufman and Kristoff draw on the vast and rich lore of science-fiction that’s come before them to create this fast-paced and action-packed YA novel. It involves everything from an interstellar military academy and space pirates to alien politics and warfare. There are incredible creatures from distant worlds and a sassy computer to help Aurora catch up on what’s changed during her long absence. You might be wondering how they can fit all that in and prevent it from being a confusing mish-mash, but it’s the mark of good authors that they pull it off with seeming ease. For YA fans, there’s all the familiar things you’ll love as well. The story is told from multiple first-person points-of-view and each character is distinctly their own, each being given their fair share of development and insight. There’s romance which ranges from love at first sight to the long hard crush on a close friend, so you’ll have plenty of options for shipping.
It’s hard to talk too much about this book without giving away spoilers even though it is the first in a trilogy. Though some readers may find it a tad slow moving in the beginning, it starts to rocket forward very quickly and before long you’re scrabbling for the next book. At times the characters feel like well-worn archetypes and at others it feels like a deliberate decision—almost like the authors wanted to take all we know and love about sci-fi and YA and mash it all together in a challenge to make it new and interesting. Other readers have accurately described it as Breakfast Club meets Guardians of the Galaxy and I can’t help but entirely agree. It’s all the coming-into-your-own glory that we expect from a group of misfits stuck following the orders of the golden boy.
Having said all that, this is most definitely a YA novel before a sci-fi novel. If YA is your jam, then jump on it, but if the usual YA tropes generally put your eyes to rolling then this might not be the series for you. Personally I found it immensely satisfying, and it had me glued to the pages and picking it up at every given opportunity, but there are moments, as with many YA stories, that made me wish for slightly more nuance and a slightly more adult approach to the story. But it was easy to read, and sometimes that’s all you need; something that can keep you turning pages late into the night desperate to know what will happen next, and something that makes you care about the fates of the characters.
Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman have proved yet again that they know their audience. They know what people want and they’re happy to deliver it, but it doesn’t come at the expense of thrill and excitement. There is still a fair share of twists and turns, surprises that had me shouting at the pages. If you’re looking for a good, fun, easy read that satisfies the best of both worlds then this book is for you. The characters are loveable and the story is pure nostalgia for sci-fi fans who can look back over their favourites and pick out the influences.