Hello and happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! Today I was planning to do a post about world-building - but over the weekend I read THE BEST BOOK and I just had to share a recommendation and review with you all.
The book in question is BROKEN SKY by L.A. Weatherly. Now, Lee is a friend of mine - I talked to her about the story while she was writing it, and she was kind enough to score me an advanced copy, which I was pretty excited to read. But I've been so busy that Saturday was the first time I've had a chance to pick it up.
I pretty much didn't put it down again for...er...six hours? I read it walking the dog, I read it in the bath, I read it while I was stirring a pot of soup, I read it during my dinner...
Let me 'splain. No! There is too much. Let me sum up.
I read a lot of YA and children's books. A lot. But BROKEN SKY has that rarest of qualities - it feels utterly fresh and unique. Set in what at first appears to be an alternate history version of the 1940's, with all the delightful Noir-ish trappings you might expect (diners, speakeasies, fighter planes, radio broadcasts and jazz music), we soon come to suspect that this is actually OUR world - but in the far future, after a nuclear apocalypse which threw the technological development of the human race back into the dark ages.
Following centuries of painfully clawing back civilisation, the human race decided: no more war. Now a neutral body, World for Peace, oversees all disputes between territories and countries with absolute fairness. No armies, no bombs, no death. The outcomes of such disputes are decided via thrilling aerial dogfights between 'Peacefighter' pilots - the best of the best - from each territory, in souped up fighter planes. The aim is to force your opponent to bail, but without killing them.
It's a set-up that is brought vividly and beautifully to life by the first person viewpoint of our heroine - Amity, otherwise known as 'Wildcat' - one of the best Peacefighters the Western Seaboard has. Scarred by a tragedy which destroyed her childhood, Amity's passionate devotion to the Peacefighter Corps and its ideals is not surprising. She's serious, focused, and dedicated, with a brilliant quality of moral resolution that I admired (I loved the fact that, even when things fell apart, she didn't blame herself - she knew she'd done what was right). Reconnecting with her childhood love, Collie, and imagining another life with him, after they both retire, doesn't really impact on her devotion to the ideal of 'A peaceful loss is better than war'. It was her grandmother and her father's ideal before her, after all.
Which makes it all the more horrifying for her when she learns that the Peacefighter Corp is, in fact, corrupt down to its roots. Not only do they routinely fix the outcomes of fights which decide the fates of millions, they also murder any Peacefighters that don't play along. A horrified Amity discovers that World for Peace have been firmly in the pocket of an insane, astrology-obsessed dictator, Gunnison, for at least a decade. Gunnison has already imposed his vision of 'Harmony' on his own territory. Now he's plotting a violent takeover of Amity's country (and the world), destroying everyone who opposes him. The Corp's betrayal rips Amity's life apart - and exposes secrets from her own past.
Adding depth and a shivering sense of creepiness to this powerful
narrative are third person sections from the PoV of Kay, a cynical
astrologer in Gunnison's territory who lies, schemes and manipulates her
way into a favoured position in the dictator's government. Although Kay
is despicable - a sort of inverse shadow of Amity's moral resolve,
strength and integrity - she's also all too easy to sympathise with
because her fears are completely reasonable: it's not hard to imagine
how desperate YOU would be to avoid being sent to a 'correction camp'
and question how far you might be willing to go to achieve a place of safety.
Forced to go on the run - hunted everywhere not only by the traitorous agents of the Peacefighter Corps, but also her own countrymen, as they fall under the sway of Gunnison's teachings - Amity desperately fights to get the truth out and protect her family and Collie. The story winds up to a devastating ending with a sucker-punch twist - setting things perfectly in motion for the sequel, Darkness Follows. I really admire authors who have the courage to set up layers and layers of elaborate world-building and make sure their universe is perfectly realised... before they take a hammer to it (ala Garth Nix and the destruction of the Wall in his Abhorsen books). It's harrowing in the very best way.
BROKEN SKY is so good, people. So, so, soooo good. Honestly. It's out today. GET IT. Then come back and tell me what you thought. But no spoilers (you'll know what I mean when you get to the end)!