Beth Revis has done something truly remarkable with her Across the Universe trilogy: created a series that gets better with each book AND makes me appreciate the present tense. I’m not sure which is more remarkable, but this series is pretty special regardless.
Amy and Elder and the portions of the Godspeed crew who have elected to try and survive on Centauri-Earth have all gathered for liftoff, but their journey to the surface is not smooth. Before they land, their shuttle is knocked to and fro by something – perhaps the monsters Orion referred to? – and the impact is bumpy, to say the least. Not everyone survives. This happens within the first few pages, so you know Revis is not messing around.
Upon arrival, Amy is quick to thaw the frozens, including her parents. Immediately, the camp becomes divided between the shipborns, led by Elder, and the frozens, led by Amy’s father. I was curious to see where Revis would take the addition of Amy’s parents, since for so long this story has been about teens trying to figure things out on their own. She sets up an interesting dynamic between Elder and Amy’s father. At first, Elder is hesitant about his leadership role, but he really grows into it here. He sees that his people may be sacrificed for the goals of the frozens, and he’s determined not to let that happen. The addition of the adult frozens also throws into sharp relief just how young Amy and Elder are, how not-adult their decisions have been.
Immediately upon landing, the shipborns and frozens alike begin to suspect that they are not alone. Not only is the planet plagued by pterodactyl-like creatures that have a taste for human flesh, they see signs that other intelligent life exists on this planet – life that does not want them there. People – both shipborns and frozens – are being picked off daily, and it’s clear that they’ll need to make a stand in order to survive.
But the frozens have their secrets about Centauri-Earth and the FRX and the creatures that may or may not exist here. How much do they know? And is it tied up with Orion’s final clue, the solution to which Amy and Elder believe still resides on Godspeed? The final revelation – which brings us back to Orion’s idea of “soldiers or slaves” – is a good one, if not entirely unpredictable.
This is a very well-plotted story that ties up nearly every loose end Revis has dangled in front of us. It’s technically a long book, but it never felt long to me, spurred on by intense action scenes, lots of little mysteries, and some intriguing world-building. The present tense is actually an asset here, helping move the story along at a nice clip. Amy’s and Elder’s voices have become distinct, helped along by their differing desires and motivations. This is a particularly heartbreaking story for Amy, and the extent to which I hurt for her demonstrates just how well-drawn she is as a character.
I loved learning about Centauri-Earth, though I do wish I could have gotten a few more details about its flora and fauna. What we do learn about it is integral to the plot, which is good, but I’m the type that always wants to know more about an entirely new world that can support human life. I suppose it’s because there are so many amazing possibilities that I can’t even imagine, and I want to see what other people can imagine.
There’s a huge body count in this concluding volume, which may put some readers off, but I appreciated it. I think it shows that Revis is true to her characters and to her concept. If she’s created a world full of monsters so horrible that generations of people would rather live on a spaceship than try to live on the planet, well, lots of people had better die when they do try. If they don’t, the whole story is invalidated.
I’d really recommend the second and third books in this series to readers looking for some good SF, even if they didn’t particularly enjoy the first book. The second and third are sufficiently different from the first, and markedly better. And with all the Earth-based SF currently being published, it’s refreshing to read something that tries to be more, to go beyond simply modifying what we already know in our own Earth, to create something entirely new and alien and different. I really dug it, and I look forward to what Revis does next.