I’m not going to get too optimistic and claim that reviews will become a regular feature here, but I’m going to try to start posting them if I write them for Goodreads/Amazon. Perhaps I’ll even make a separate page to archive them and make them easier to find after they’ve been lost to the blog update scroll.
I’m not a professional reviewer and if I do any sort of literary analysis, it’ll be because it just happened, not because I set out to do so. So, give it a few days and check back; I’ll likely have created pages for the reviews I previously posted on Amazon. For now, the freshest review is for the three books of Chuck Wendig’s The Heartland Trilogy.
When I started reading the series, I hadn’t actually heard anything about it (I looked some stuff up later). I bought it basically on the strength of Wendig’s blogging and because I liked the covers (see, people DO judge books on their covers).
Under the Empyrean Sky
An exciting start to the Heartland Trilogy, Under the Empyrean Sky is what I can only describe as “rural dystopia.” The world is a place of inequality, where the elite live in floating cities and the rest toil on the ground scavenging or tending to the invasion corn species on which the economy revolves. Like Wendig’s other works I’ve read, Under the Empyrean Sky is fast-paced and relentless as it builds to its conclusion.
I found the dystopia depicted interesting because it wasn’t (as far as I can remember) the result of an apocalyptic war, or a zombie plague, or an alien invasion; it was just the result of the way the world progressed until the rich were able to leave behind the land worked by the poor.
The characters were well-developed, as well, and while there were clear divisions between who was “good” and who was “bad,” no one was without their flaws and even most of the antagonists had moments of sympathy. I’m interested to see where the story goes in Blightborn.
Blightborn picks up pretty much where Under the Empyrean Sky leaves off. Since I read this back-to-back with The Harvest, I won’t go as in depth as I normally might because the details blur together. Our main cast has been split up (which seems to be pretty standard for these kinds of stories; I’ve done it myself) and situations escalate. Everything proceeds very logically and the characters’ flaws often come back to bite them in the ass.
The story is done well-enough that by the time I got to book two in the series, it felt less like a dystopian story (though it clearly is) and more like rural fantasy. I guess there’s no reason it can’t be a rural fantasy set in a future dystopia. The Heartland could be the American Great Plain at some specified point in the future, but it doesn’t have to be and this is a strength. I don’t think the more fantastical elements of the story (and the Blight is definitely more like fantastic nature magic than a real-world mutation or disease) would work as well if one could pinpoint where and when in the real world this story is supposed to have taken place.
By the time I was ¾ of the way through the story, I started to get annoyed that some of the characters were making the same mistakes and I thought “Are these people stupid?” Well, no. Well, some of them are, but what I mean is: they’re young. It’s easy to forget that these characters are still teenagers. I don’t think any of the main characters are yet twenty. Most teenagers think they’re invincible and really need to be hit on the head before they learn a life lesson. So, it might get annoying, but it is realistic. More on that in The Harvest review.
Blightborn is a good necessary follow-up to Under the Empyrean Sky. Even more than its predecessor, when you reach the end, you’ll want to jump right into The Harvest.
So I did.
Book three of The Heartland Trilogy, The Harvest picks up the story about a year after the events of Blightborn. The characters are a little older, though not much wiser. Lane and Gwennie have undergone the most change, not counting Cael and Wanda’s physical changes. I mentioned in my review of Blightborn that I was annoyed that some of the characters kept making the same stupid mistakes, belated realized it was a flaw of their ages, not of characterization. More the same here, and to their credit, they didn’t kill a few characters that I really wish they had (it gives them a stronger moral standing). Had Wendig indulged in that type of revenge fantasy, the meaningful deaths in the story wouldn’t have had as much meaning, either to the readers or the characters.
Not everyone in The Harvest has a happy ending, or at least, the happy ending I think most readers expect. That’s okay. That makes for a better story and the conclusion is still satisfying. I think the unexpected fates of some of the characters makes the conclusion MORE satisfying. Every characters earns their end. I didn’t reach the end and declare with incredulity “That’s IT?” Not that I was expecting, to, but it wouldn’t be the first time I reached the end of a well-regarded trilogy and been disappointing that some reset button had been pressed or that the character I wanted to DIE DIE DIE ended up having a happily ever after .
The Heartland Trilogy covers world-changing events, and by the end the world has, indeed, been changed, for good or ill. I enjoyed that the end didn’t create a magical, wonderful life for all the characters. Happily ever after is fine and dandy, but it has to be tempered through the eyes of the characters to be true. Life isn’t easy and clean and so it is not for these characters. They’ve been tempered by the events of the story and come out the other side better people.
Wendig has received some criticism about profanity and sexuality in his YA works, and these are YA fiction. Compared to the type of language I heard from my peers at that age, these books are mild. The sex? There’s nothing graphic. There a homosexual relationship, but I’m not even going to address those criticisms because they’re not worth the effort it would take. I will say report of a “gay agenda” in Wendig’s writing, in this series in particular, are grossly misleading. I’m not sure those people read the same books I did.
Read The Heartland Trilogy. You won’t be sorry you did. Unless you HATE corn. Corn-o-phobes might be uncomfortable, and there are some elements of body horror, but it’s not really framed that way.