Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.
Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.
The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?
They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.
Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.
About the Author
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He's the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.
[This review is based on an advanced copy received by the publisher through NetGalley.]
Blightborn, the latest release from the ever-prolific Chuck Wendig, and second in his cornpunk The Heartland Trilogy, follows swiftly on the heels of Under The Empyrean Sky's conclusion.
With the world building out of the way, and many of the main cast's rivalries set up in Empyrean, Blightborn allows Wendig to go hog-wild and blow stuff up, upend expectations, and expand on the premise of The Heartland series in fine fashion.
When last we saw the intrepid crew of the sky ship Betty
- spoilers for Under The Empyrean Sky -
Cael had learned that his father was illegally growing fresh produce and had killed the mayor. His girlfriend, Gwennie, was a lottery winner and elevated, along with her family, to live aboard one of the Empyrean's floating cities and escape the hardscrabble life of the dirt-farming Heartlanders. Needless to say, Cael wasn't going to let that happen without a fight, and he and his teenage crew of Blue Sky Scavengers set out to cross the desolation of the Heartland and, somehow, win her back. Unfortunately, that ticked the hell out of his Obligated bride-to-be, and the dead mayor's son, and rival to Cael for Gwennie's affections, had an awful large score to settle.
Returning to these characters in Blightborn, Wendig delivers fully on the conflicts established at the close of book one, and creates even larger obstacles for his cast to contend with, while driving new wedges between them. As expected, the Empyrean's lottery is a double-edged sword: the promise of elevation too good to be true, and it comes wrapped in the caul of class-warfare. As Gwennie quickly learns, life in the Empyrean sky is hardly a joy, and even less so for a pure-bred Heartlander like she and her family, who are separated, exiled, and forced into labor.
Beneath the floating flotilla, Cael and his friends are trying to make it to a loading depot, with grand designs of boarding a sky ship (after losing Betty in the previous book) and making their way upward. Along the way, they are beset by raiders, Boyland's crew, a murderous hobo who wants to catch the wanted trio (they're considered terrorists by the Empyrean overlords and have a hefty bounty hanging over their heads), and the blight, a ravenous disease that stems from the genetically modified corn fields that cover the Heartland. All of this ties neatly into a bit family history that Cael is unaware of and provides some terrific background to his now-absent parents, which helps to fuel and shape his own quest and place in the Heartland.
Wendig is an author who has been on absolute fire of late. His Miriam Black books are among some of the finest paranormal thrillers I've had the pleasure to read, and Mookie Pearl from The Blue Blazes (watch out for subtle nod toward that book early on in Blightborn!) was a fun new character whose return I'm greatly looking forward to later this year in The Hellsblood Bride. The Heartland series is a wonderful departure from either of those previous series, and, in some ways, proves to be a bit darker and deeper. While Miriam's visions of death and ordeals with serial killers isn't exactly light-weight stuff, there's a buoyant flippancy to that series, thanks in large part to her natural sarcasm that lends for a natural sort of humor. There are far less funny shenanigans, wry observations, or witty back-and-forths in this cornpunk entry, but that's life in the Heartland.
Wendig is focused more on exploring the struggles of a violent class warfare and food politics. That's not too say the read is dry and dreary - far, far, far from it. Rather, it simply strikes me as, tonally, a more serious work, and that tone grows naturally from the characters and the world they inhabit, as well as the threats they face. It's dark story of survival and impossible odds.
One thing I appreciated was the increased focus on the female cast members, particularly Gwennie and Cael's sister, Merelda. The two find themselves on opposite ends of the social spectrum, with the latter having become the mistress of the flotilla's chief security officer and hiding her true Heartlander roots. Their roles are necessarily expanded after having gotten a bit of a short-shrift in the previous book, but they shine nicely in Blightborn, and it was great to see Gwennie so prominently in on the action (especially since she's the one who taught Cael how to throw a punch!). I won't spoil her role in the book, but she does carry a lot of the thematic weight mentioned earlier in regards to the class struggle, and it's juicy stuff.
Blightborn is a heftier, more serious work than its predecessor, and Wendig is clearly crafting an epic trilogy of terrific scope with this series. It's also quite a bit darker, which is pretty common in middle entries - the stakes are higher and the threats more formidable. The Initiative, which is teased a bit before finally being revealed in the book's third act, is a horrifying manipulation that perfectly illustrates the evil and grandiose ego of the Empyrean rulers, and their sense of entitlement. Wendig has also planted a good number of compelling seeds that will bear beautiful fruit come book three. I'd expect the conclusion of this story to release next year, but damn if that's not going to be a long, brutal wait. Alas, that's life in the heartland.