Review: Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy 1)

Under-the-Empyrean-Sky-by-Chuck-WendigBy Chuck Wendig

Skyscape, Out now

“That’s life in the Heartland” – and most people simply accept that that’s the way things have to be. But Cael believes there can be more than growing Hiram’s Golden Prolific Corn…

Chuck Wendig has perhaps become best known in recent times for his hardhitting urban fantasies – including the Miriam Black novels and The Blue Blazes – and the heartfelt passion which drives those stories (as well as others you should seek out, such as the Atlanta Burns series) is to the fore in this first science fiction tale. He gets inside the heads of his teenage protagonists to such an extent that you really feel their frustration and elation as events unfold.

Where some young adult novels feed in to the zeitgeist of current times, Wendig takes more of a Stephen King approach, as demonstrated in stories like ‘The Body’ (the basis for Stand By Me). While teenage readers will appreciate the situations and recognise how similar they are to real life, despite their SF trappings, older readers will almost feel nostalgic for the time before they went through the various sorts of rites of passage which Cael and his friends endure.

A lot of fuss has been made – unnecessarily – over the use of language in this novel: anyone who seriously doesn’t believe that teenagers use these sorts of profanity hasn’t spent any time with them when they’re relaxed. Far more importantly, Wendig uses language in a way that sells the world that he’s creating. Some of the double meanings may only become clear if you speak some of the names and phrases out loud – even the title itself expresses a number of different possibilities.

A great deal is set up within this initial volume, and I look forward to seeing how the various elements play out.

Verdict: An enjoyable adventure in a believable environment, with some cautionary undertones about our own society.  7/10

Paul Simpson

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