Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 6 May 2019)
Series: Aurora Cycle – Book 1
Length: 470 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The superstar team of Australian young adult fiction authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff comes together once more to create an outstanding, heartfelt and deeply entertaining new novel that may prove to be one of the best young adult books of 2019.
Kaufman and Kristoff are two of the biggest and most creative authors currently writing young adult fiction. Kaufman is probably best known for her work with Meagan Spooner, where they have co-authored the Starbound trilogy and Unearthed series of books, the second book of which, Undying, was released earlier this year. She is also in the process of writing her own Elementals series, with the second book, Scorch Dragons, released a month ago. Kristoff first came into prominence with The Lotus War series, which debuted in 2012. Since then he has also written The Nevernight Chronicle, the final book of which is set to be released in September, while his latest book, Lifel1k3, was one of the most talked about young adult releases of 2018. Kristoff’s sequel to Lifel1k3, Dev1at3, is set to be released in a month, and he is currently working on an epic fantasy series, Empire of the Vampire, with the eponymous first book set to be released in September next year.
Kaufman and Kristoff have previously collaborated on the bestselling and award winning The Illuminae Files, a space opera epistolary series made up of three books which ran between 2015 and 2018. Their latest collaboration, Aurora Rising, is another epic piece of young adult science fiction and is the first book in their planned Aurora Cycle series, which is currently set to feature another two books, released in 2020 and 2021.
Aurora Rising is set in the year 2380 and follows a spacefaring team of young adventurers as they attempt to save the galaxy. In the future, humans have expanded out deep into the Milky Way, with fast intergalactic travel made possible through the Fold, dangerous space found on the other side of literal folds in the universe. The Aurora Legion are an independent peacekeeping force made up of humans and several friendly alien races. In order to complete their various humanitarian, exploration and peacekeeping missions, the Aurora Legion sends teams of young legionnaires, who can better withstand the rigors of the Fold, into the field. Each team is made up of six highly trained and skilled individuals, who together can solve any problem they encounter.
Tyler Jones is the star graduating cadet of the Aurora Academy, who, thanks to his dedication and ability, will be given first pick of his fellow graduating cadets to form an elite team. However, when an unscheduled joyride forces him to perform a risky rescue in the Fold, he misses the cadet draft, leaving him with a team of the cadets none of the other graduating squad leaders wanted. These include (the descriptions were copied from the blurb due to accuracy):
- His sister, Scarlet – A cocky diplomat with a blackbelt in sarcasm;
- His best friend, Cat – A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into her squad leader, in case you were wondering;
- Zila – a sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates;
- Finian – a smart-ass tech-whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder;
- Kal – an alien warrior with anger management issues.
Forced to make the most of his bad luck, Tyler leads his team on a routine mission that quickly turns hairy when a hostile force of aliens seek to destroy them. However, genocidal aliens are the least of their problems, when they discover that the girl Tyler saved in the Fold, Aurora O’Malley, has stowed away on their ship. Aurora, the only survivor of a colony ship long thought lost, is 200 years out of time and desperate to figure out what happened to her colony and the family she left behind. The squad discovers that she is far more significant than they could ever imagine when she displays strange abilities and impossible knowledge of both the past and future. When shadowy government agents attempt to arrest Aurora, the squad are forced to go rogue to solve the mystery and end up in a race to save the galaxy.
Aurora Rising is a spectacular read, as these skilled authors take the reader through an intense young adult science fiction adventure in an intriguing new universe. The book’s story as a whole is an outstanding mixture of intense action, enjoyable science fiction elements and excellent character work, all wrapped up with clever storytelling that is both compelling and humorous. There are a number of great scenes and epic moments throughout this book that really highlight this book’s unique style and the writer’s ability to tell a story. For example, I personally liked an extended sequence that followed the protagonists as they embarked on an elaborate and seemingly impossible heist on a massive space station ruled by a vicious crime lord. The overall result is a near perfect read that I had an absolute blast checking out. This is an amazing piece of young adult fiction, with enough action and relatable characters to appeal to all manner of potential teen readers. Older science fiction readers will also have a great time with this book, especially as it sets up a captivating and ambitious new trilogy that will appeal to a huge and diverse audience.
This book is told from the first-person perspectives of the book’s seven protagonists, which includes Aurora and all six members of Tyler’s squad, each of whom gets a series of chapters throughout the book to tell the story. Kaufman and Kristoff make good use of the chapters each of the characters narrate and the reader gets a good idea of each character’s individual personality, as well as important snippets into their individual backstory. The authors also try to differentiate these chapters out a bit for some of the characters. For example, Zila’s chapters are rather short, blunt and analytical in nature, matching her personality, while Scarlet’s chapters feature her listing off the humorous pros and cons of her ex-boyfriends, figuring out which ones to stay in contact with. I really enjoyed how the authors told the story through these seven separate narrators, as not only did it bring me closer to the characters but it allowed the authors to showcase various perspectives of some of the more impressive sequences and events, allowing for a fuller and more intense story.
Aurora Rising features an outstanding complement of main characters, as each member of the squad, including Aurora, are looked at in some detail. I was very impressed with how the authors where able to create such expansive and intriguing backstories for all seven main characters, as each of them has their own issues or concerns. For example, Tyler and Scarlett are living in the shadow of their dead father’s heroics and trying to make him proud, Cat is deeply in love with Tyler and is having a hard time keeping her feelings in check, and Zila struggles with her disconnection with other people brought on by her tragic past. Other examples include the team’s two alien members: Finian, who to hides his feelings of abandonment behind his brilliance and snark; and Kal, who is torn between guilt about what his race’s warrior caste, of which he is a member, has done to his home planet and his surprising feelings for one of the other members of his squad. Aurora is perhaps one of the most complex characters, waking after 200 years to find that everything and everyone she knew is dead and parts of her past have been hidden for nefarious reasons. Add into that her discovery of uncontrollable mental abilities and the feeling that something mysterious is guiding her and she has a lot to worry about. One of the best things about this book is that whilst all seven characters are fairly complex individually, the book’s true strength revolves around the fact that when these characters come together they are an extremely dysfunctional crew. The crew starts off as a rebellious and overly sarcastic mess unable to work together effectively, even with their individual abilities and strengths. However, as the book continues, they do learn to cooperate to a degree, and the reader is made to really care for them, both individually and as a whole. I loved how these character relationships expanded and strengthened throughout the book, and I had a lot of fun with this humorous and entertaining group of people.
I really enjoyed the universe that Kaufman and Kristoff crafted to fit around this enjoyable and intriguing story. Visions of humanity’s future can always be a bit hit or miss, but I thought that the science fiction setting that the authors utilise in this book, which sees humanity expanding and interacting with other races while dark secrets and wars build up in the background, to be a fun and well-thought-out setting. The characters visit an interesting and inventive number of locations through the book, all of which really add to Aurora Rising’s adventure and action.
I liked the author’s concept of the Aurora Legion, an intergalactic peacekeeping organisation that sends teenage operatives into action due to science fiction reasons. One of the things I quite enjoyed about this was how these teams were designed to have six members whose joint abilities and specialities would allow them to anticipate and overcome any problem. As a result the teams are made up of:
- Alphas – leaders
- Faces – diplomats
- Aces – pilots
- Gearheads – mechanics/inventors/technicians
- Tanks – combat specialists
- Brains – science officers/medics
This team breakdown proved to be quite an interesting concept, even if they do sound like party roles in a MMORPG (tank, healer, DPS etc). I liked this idea and the various characters slid into the roles quite effectively.
I also had a lot of fun with the universe-expanding insertions that Kaufman and Kristoff placed before a number of the book’s chapters. These insertions are written as information pages being read by Aurora on her uniglass, an AI tablet called Magellan, who has a playful sense of humour and who also provides some amusing commentary within the story. These information pages provide the reader extra information about the universe, including about the Aurora Legions, the roles of the squads’ various members, the history of the universe, alien species, locations the protagonists visit and other relevant inclusions. While each of these pages contains universe factual information, Magellan adds humorous twists to each of these pages which are very entertaining and really fit into the easy going and entertaining mood of most of the book. However, these information pages do change and get more serious in the darker parts of the book, which also helps prepare the reader for the shift in mood. I loved these inclusions, not only appreciating the inventive universe building they allowed, but also the fun take on the classic idea of in-universe media inclusions.
Aurora Rising is an absolutely fantastic book that blasts off with action, humour and amazing characters to create a deeply compelling and relentlessly entertaining story. Australian authors Kaufman and Kristoff are an outstanding writing duo, and their latest collaboration is an amazing piece of young adult fiction that brilliantly establishes their new trilogy and ensures that future instalments of the Aurora Cycle will be some of the most sought after young adult books for 2020 and 2021. Aurora Rising comes highly recommended from me, and it is one of my favourite new young adult books of 2019 so far.