The entire planet has been blasted by the Aether, making life out in the unprotected surface dangerous and harsh.
And an odyssey across this postapocalyptic world forms the backbone of "Under The Never Sky," a solid dystopian sci-fi novel. While the plot is pretty simple, Veronica Rossi twines it in sensual prose and well-rounded characters -- as well as a glimpse of how our lives are made better by technology, but we need the wildness of REAL life to remain sane.
Ever since the Aether blasted the Earth, the human race has been split into two major groups. There are the Outsiders, who eke out a meager existence in the outside world. And there are the Dwellers, who live in high-tech Pods and immerse their minds in the virtual-reality Realms.
When a bunch of teenagers go into an abandoned Pod, Aria is horrified when Consul Hess's son Soren sets the place on fire. She's only barely saved by a young Outsider who has broken into the pod, and he leaves with her Smarteye (a comm device). When Consul Hess decides to cover up his son's actions, he tosses Aria out into the outside world, where she's expected to die from disease or Aether.
Instead, she's found by the Outsider boy who rescued her before, Perry. But because he stole the Smarteye, his dying nephew has been kidnapped by the Dwellers, and he has run away from his tribe to save the boy. Now the two outcasts must travel to the only person who can help them find a way into the Pods -- as well as a shocking secret that could change their worlds forever.
Dystopian fiction is having something of a boom right now, and "Under the Never Sky" is a lovely example of the genre. Veronica Rossi still has some rough spots -- we don't see enough of the Pods or Realms to really understand what Aria misses -- but there's a real, raw passion in her writing that shines through the bleak, wild settings.
The first half of the story is a pretty straightforward quest-to-get-stuff-done, but Rossi uses the time to explore Aria's adjustment to a life she's never known (menstruation, blisters, danger). As Aria and Perry get more comfortable with each other, Rossi begins twining new obstacles into their story -- conspiracies, tribes of roving cannibals, and a wild little boy with a mysterious power.
She also has a very lovely prose style. The descriptions are lushly sensual ("His body was a tight coil of pain around her, his tears cool feathers on her skin") and the dialogue often follows ("Your voice sounds like a midnight fire. All warm and worn in and golden").
And Rossi spends most of the book building up the relationship between Aria and Perry, as their mutual loathing begins to slip into respect, and finally blooms into love. It feels natural and organic, rather than just having two teens make eye contact and instantly fall into eternal lust. She also sprinkles the story with other vibrant characters -- the impish Roar, the hot-tempered Vale, and the troubled kid Cinder.
"Under the Never Sky" is a strong, sensual book that leaves the door wide open for an inevitable sequel -- and if it's of the same quality as Veronica Rossi's debut, I can't wait.