Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Rating 6.0/10
I have a love / hate relationship with this book.

Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig is the first book in a Young Adult dystopian trilogy with angsty teens, flotillas full of privileged people, and corn. So much corn. Readers are having fun describing these books as corn-punk, but for your sake I'll try to refrain from the corn puns.

The Heartland Trilogy is set in a world where a fast growing weather resistant strain of corn has pretty much overgrown the entire world, with people of privilege known as the Empyreans living above the Earth on their flotillas, and the rest living in small communities trying to keep the corn from overwhelming them. The story follows seventeen year old Cael McAvoy and his team of scavengers who serve the community by using their skiff to scour the corn fields for any salvage that is worthwhile. When their skiff is wrecked in a trap set by a rival scavenger team far from any civilization, Cael and his friends make the discovery of a lifetime - a trail of fruits and vegetables that have not only survived the onslaught of the corn but flourished. Cael sees this discovery as their ticket to the flotillas, but it instead put himself, his friends and his family in danger.

I have a love / hate relationship with this book. I love the premise, I love the way Wendig writes, and I hate the characters with a passion. The effort that Wendig has gone to with regards to world building must be appreciated. The way he has altered the world as we know it, the way he has changed the vernacular of the people in consideration of the corn-pocalypse, the way he makes it seem like the world has existed for as long as people can remember, these things should not be understated. Wendig is not known for his subtlety, but he achieves it here through his attention to detail. This is a world I want to know more about. It's just a shame he populated it with so many jaded, bitter, selfish jerks.

Cael McAvoy, or as I like to call him Jerkface McDouchebag, is not a hero or an anti-hero or anyone I really care about. He is a jerk with no foresight, no understanding of how actions result in consequences, an emotional abuser of his love interest and his father, a boy who would put his friends in danger to further his own interests, a boy who is incapable of acknowledging that he is wrong, a boy who simply does not understand why the things he does makes him a jerk. Jerkface McDouchebag is not alone in being a scummy manipulator and emotional abuser, with his rival (the son of the mayor and leader of the rival scavenger team), his friends, his rival's friends, the Empyrean proctor, and just about everyone else all as bad as each other. Sure they are the product of circumstance, and sure the way they are could be shown to make sense in the context of the situation, but that doesn't give these people a free pass, it doesn't make them interesting, it doesn't make me care about their conflicts and what the outcome may be. It just makes me bitter too.

Under The Empyrean Sky is a book that sounds great when you try to describe the premise. The writing has been executed to a high standard. It comes from an author with a great reputation. And it’s a quick, easy read. But despite all this, I struggled to enjoy the book because I struggled to find anything remotely likeable or sympathetic about the characters. I'll keep reading the trilogy, Wendig has more than earned that from me with his previous books, and hopefully I can find more to like in the rest of the trilogy.

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