Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi was an unexpected read for me. I am very cynical of young adult novels that call themselves dystopian, especially when they really are a romance novel with an alternate reality setting (more on this later) but I actually found that I enjoyed Under the Never Sky.
Told with a dual narrative, Under the Never Sky follows Aria and Perry. Aria is a ‘Dweller’, a girl who resides within a protected city that is isolated from the outside world. Perry is an ‘Outsider’, a boy with a genetic gift which gives him enhanced sight and sense. After a series of events, which results in Aria being exiled and Perry finding her, the two must work together to survive.
Though Under the Never Sky would never be dystopian or post-apocalyptic in my books, Under the Never Sky has a few neat ideas which sets it above other young adult books of this genre. Though there isn’t a particular emphasis on world-building, some aspects of it are interesting. Aria and the people who live in the enclosed cities (Pods) spend most of their lives in ‘Realms’, in which optical devices called ‘Smarteyes’ transport the wearer to a virtual reality, called the ‘Realms’. After exile, Aria feels overwhelmed by the disconnect in reality she feels after losing the Realm, which was previously integral in her conception of reality. Though it isn’t a prominent theme, the question of what constitutes as reality (can we really call the Realm a reality?) is touched upon very briefly (though never very reconciled, even at the end of the book).
Another point worth mentioning is the conflict that exists between Aria and Perry. Much to my relief, the conflict that arises between Aria and Perry remains a relevant plot point and is developed throughout the book, rather than simply being there for the sake of romantic tension. The clash of Aria and Perry’s worldview, owing to their respective upbringing and ways of life, is elaborated and ultimately reconciled which doesn’t only serve to the benefits of their relationship, but contributes to the wider plot and storyline. On topic of positive things about the characters, I liked Perry; his character development was compelling, particularly with his relationship with his brother and the Tides tribe.
If you don’t think too much about it, Under the Never Sky is an entertaining read with a somewhat decent romance (as far as young adult novels go anyway) and with a premise that held my interest.
On the other hand, if you do think too much about it, Under the Never Sky has some flaws. Categorizing this novel is difficult; I do not think it amounts to a science-fiction because the very science-fiction part itself is lacking. My main gripe with it was that it felt implausible and unconvincing. Whilst I don’t expect authors to provide full-length explanations about why such technologies exist or the intricacies or technological mechanisms behind it, the ‘science fiction’ part of the book begins to feel irrelevant. Alas, there is no depth, no exploration or awareness, or even a description of what life is like inside the Pods; the science is used solely as a plot device, and it isn’t enough. Although I did say earlier in the review that I liked parts of the worldbuilding – and I do! – it doesn’t hold up that would win it the privilege to be called science fiction.
Regarding Aethers, which are the destructive storms in the sky that have driven people into their isolated cities, I feel like I should withhold my judgement until I read the sequels. However, I was disappointed that an explanation of its origins was lacking; the Aether is extremely relevant in Under the Never Sky, and it seems like it will remain relevant until the third book. Regardless, I think if a sort of pseudo-explanation – perhaps under the guise of ideology or what the authority in the Pods/Tribes claims them to be – would have done the plot justice. Aether in this book felt like a plot point that the reader had to accept unconditionally, and although I am interested in why Aethers are there, what is their significance, etc., in this book, it’s implementation in the story feels weak.
I won’t delve too deeply into the romance in the storyline because I’ve reached an impasse of opinion regarding it. I want to say I liked it; I liked the pace in which it was developed (slow but within the realm of reason) and I thought some moments were sweet. On the other hand, something about Aria and Perry’s relationship feels like it lacks any sort of meaning or substance, and unlike great romances, there is nothing distinct about their relationship to talk about with others. It feels superficial and lacks depth. On the topic of characters, I’m in an impasse regarding Aria too. I’m aware that people are labeling her a Mary Sue (and she is, to an extent) but my main gripe was that she felt two-dimensional. Aside from her singing, there is nothing distinct about her that makes her a memorable character – I could describe her but it would be extremely difficult for someone to guess whom I was describing.
All in all, though Under the Never Sky is an entertaining on a very superficial level, underneath that thin layer there isn’t much more that this book offers. It’s a good read if you want to relax and not think about something so hard as the action the story delivers is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of action. Regardless, Under the Never Sky wasn’t too horrible to the extent that I’ve given up on the series so I am willing to give Through the Ever Night a go. Fingers crossed that there will be more plot and character development in this one?
Book Title: Under the Never Sky
Book Series: Under the Never Sky #1
Author: Veronica Rossi
Published by: HarperCollins
Pages: 374 pages