Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Title: Glow
Genre: young-adult, science fiction, post-apocalyptic
Series: The Sky Chasers #1
Pages: 307 (paperback uncorrected ARC)
Published: September 2011
Source: won on GoodReads
Rating: 4/5

Glow is set in the semi-distant future, when mysterious circumstances have made "Old" Earth practically unlivable and humans can barely survive, much less thrive. In order to save the species, two inter-galactic ships, The New Horizon and the Empyrean are the only hope of the colonists and Earth to cross the galaxy to find, settle and repopulate a new home. One ship, the New Horizon, consisting of the more religious/Christian settlers and left a year before Empyrean. While the latter spaceship launched after with a more multicultural/politically varied aspect to the passengers, the differing views and launch times keep each ship an island, with no communication passing between the populations of each ship.

Told in the third person perspective, the narrative of the novel jumps between two main characters, usually after a stretch of chapters in the same POV.  Those two are Waverly and Kieran, two of the first in-space live births, two of the upcoming generation, slated to take over in time and continue to "New Earth." Because these young people are two of the first humans born in space, and thus supremely important to the mission of Empyrean, they are the crux upon which this book hangs. In order for both ships to successfully navigate for all the space and time needed, each ship had to supplement its original workforce: children of the current crew would be needed to run the ship after their parents. When the New Horizon cannot successfully reproduce, they attack their sister ship, kidnapping all the young-women. I loved the premise of this plot - it's original and striking in its creepiness. There's a genuine feel of desperation often in Waverly's dialogue and thoughts, which is to be expected, but it's handled well; building successively every time the narrative shifts to Waverly's POV. The split narrative of Waverly/Kieran/girls/boys is a brilliant move for Ryan's storytelling: each side carefully balances between the fast-paced action and more cerebral plotting.

Though I hate the new trend of constant comparisons to The Hunger Games (The most riveting series since The Hunger Games! is sprawled across the back blurb [AND THIS IS NOT A DYSTOPIA]), I think that readers who enjoyed Katniss' ferocity and determination will have a similar reaction for Waverly (I don't have the problem with her name that a lot of reviewers seem to have. But I read a lot of fantasy so maybe my weird-name tolerance is high.) Both are young-girls who no "powers" to speak of; only their wits and resourcefulness can help them. Both are strong young-women who don't rely on a man to save them or rescue them; Waverly's independent and so determined she doesn't even contemplate just waiting or hoping for the best blindly. She's a determined, clever and resolute without being overbearing or controlling: all things I love in a female protagonist. The word that srpings to mind for this character is brave. The focus is never on how Waverly looks, but completely on how she thinks, what she does. Though Waverly, like Katniss Everdeen, suffers from the Mysterious Missing Parent Syndrome so popular in today's teen literature, the mystery of what happened to her father is a subplot that caught my curiosity almost as much as the main story. Waverly herself is a strong character; she commands attention when she's on the page in any chapter.

The other main character, that of Kieran Alden: wonderboy, future Captain and Waverly's love interest, wasn't nearly as interesting to me. Though he seemed mostly fleshed out and internally conflicted (understandable as a member of one of the only religious families on Empyrean) this character never connected with me. He is seemingly perfect (though not a Larry Sue [or whatever it is for male characters]) but his personality came across as hollow and insincere. Even when he's at his most "human" - making mistakes, breaking down - he is remote and cut-off character. Maybe that is because he's always in charge, in control; I just didn't root for him the way I normally would. When the (inevitable) love-triangle rolled along I couldn't even pick a team: Team Seth or Team Kieran. Both are passably flawed and virtuous; neither is as compelling a protagonist as Waverly. Another possible reason for my distaste for pretty much all the men in the book is their collective attitude toward women and young girls. The atmosphere feels possessive, controlling and calculating whenever a young woman is mentioned. Several slight allusions to past problems with the male population throughout the novel furthered this distaste and apprehension.

With dividing the two ships into religious/non-religious crews, the author has set the stage and tension within the first twenty pages of the novel. The subtle hints and allusions of the characters themselves make abundantly clear that the differences between the two ships (and their respective crews) are both problematic and ambiguous. Though the author takes considerable time and care to both demonize and humanize each side of the religious debate, the reader is left with the relevant question, "Does religion hurt? Or does it heal?" The leader of the New Horizon is an excellent villain and symbol: a pleasant face, calm demeanor masking the horror inside a Pastor's machinations and mind. On the Empyrean, the symbol of that ambiguity-in-power is that of the Captain: supposedly beneficent and kind,  but possessed of the same chilling attitude as most of the males on board. Another interesting dichotomy is the reaction of the two main characters: Kieran tries to boldly run the show from the outset and the results are mixed. Waverly, quietly and carefully, resists from the shadows and bides her time.

Some of the actions of the religious ship New Horizon (the kidnapping itself, the murders, attempted brainwashing, the egg-harvesting, the imprisonment of crew from the Empyrean) are egregiously horrible and disgusting... until later on when more sides of the tale are told (and those are not all favorable for the erstwhile population of the Empyrean). No side is perfect; no side is innocent in this deep-space drama. There are several dark, unsettling undertones to this novel - when the girls are stolen, the parents of the rest of the ship are locked away from the remaining boys. Those boys devolve into a more bestial, harsh rule; several critics have hearkened their actions to those in The Lord of the Flies, with a more military bent. The comparison rings true: the boys self-determined leadership is cruel and harsh, almost murderous. Though it was an interesting and fresh idea, I was never as completely involved with Kieran, Seth, Arthur as I was with the stolen girls. The girls story arc over on the New Horizon was completely different, but so disturbing I thought about it even when I was not reading the novel. 

The ending is not final and complete (it is a series after all); several important threads are left hanging, characters left in limbo, etc. I fully intend to keep reading; the mystery of the exodus and colonization, who to believe/trust, Waverly's father's accident, reaching the final destination.. these are all compelling storylines I'm eager to read already and it's technically not even a published novel yet. Quick, easy to read with a GREAT hook, Glow is more than worth checking out. Ms. Ryan's inventive writing sucks you in before the first chapter is out, and then the mystery and tension do not let up.

(I received Glow via the goodreads firstreads program. This did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.)


  1. This has sparked my interest. I would love to read this book now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting!! I do love me some space exploration fic, if it's light on the science, so this might be my cup of tea. Also, I love a strong heroine. (I haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy yet but should given all the excitement for it!).

  3. I recommend it, Gwenny. It's fast and fun to read.

    Audra: it is pretty light on the science. Some gravity/lightspeed explanations are made, but they're simple and easy to follow. And you should. I love the Hunger Games, just tired of it referenced as the end-all be-all.

  4. This book looks really good and I've seen it before but didn't really know what it was about. Can't wait to read it. =]

    -Michael/Bookshelf Reviewer

  5. Wow! This sounds good! Thanks for the review.
    Mary, A Book A Day

  6. This looks like something fun to read. Thanks for the review.

    House Millar - Blood's Voice

  7. I got this from Goodreads and I need to get to it!

  8. You should! It's surprisingly good!

  9. I love your review :) You use the term 'creepiness' and creepy is exactly how I felt about so much of what Ryan set up in this beginning. I think the key thing that made it so disconcerting for me (in the best kind of way, of course!) was the fact that I could actually see things happening this way if humankind should ever be in this situation. And I'm not sure I want to think too much about that ;)


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