Author: E. K. Johnston
Genre: YA, Science Fiction
Published: May 25th, 2021 (Dutton BYR)
Synopsis: Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.
Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.
Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
On an interstellar freighter like the Harland, everyone is expected to earn their oxygen and rations. When at five, Pendt is found to have the ability to manipulate genes, her mother and aunt declare it worthless. Seen as useless by the family, Pendt is relegated to menial tasks and basically starved, given just enough to survive. As her eighteenth birthday draws closer however, she knows the day she will be contracted out to other ships is coming, and with it, what little freedom she does have will be gone too. As the Harland docks at Brannick Station, Pendt sees her chance and escapes. The twin brothers who run the Station find her and realizing that she is a powerful gene mage, they make her an offer that will not only take her out of her family’s control forever, but also allow Ned Brannick to escape the gene lock that traps him on the station.
With such an intriguing premise, I really wanted to like this book. The brief history of the world we are given at the beginning seemed to lay the ground for what sounded like an exciting space opera – and for the first half, it did feel like the story was building up to something big. I liked how fast paced and easy to read this was, not to mention short, which is quite a novelty in YA these days when nearly every book is almost 400 pages. The magic system was really unique and combined with the lore of the world, made for an fascinating backdrop to this story (although the obsession with calories started to get a bit weird after a while).
Pendt’s character arc was fantastic. Her years aboard the Harland and the hardships she undergoes were depicted in a lot of detail, which made it very clear how much and how quickly she grows once away from her family, turning into an incredibly strong character. Ned and Fisher Brannick, the twins, were interesting characters, though I did feel that the story would have benefitted more if they had been introduced right at the beginning rather than waiting until almost halfway through the story. It felt quite abrupt, especially since their POVs were suddenly added in at that point too when we were already used to Pendt’s voice.
While there were many things about this book that didn’t work for me, three in particular stand out. While the writing and dialogue feels like YA, the topics or atleast the way they’re discussed certainly are not and there were many plot points, especially in the second half of the book, that made me more than a little uncomfortable. While there are content warnings at the beginning, I didn’t feel like it was nearly comprehensive enough. Second, I knew there was LQBTQ representation in this book, but I am very disappointed with how vague and confusing the portrayal was. Maybe it was just too subtle for me, but I didn’t figure out that Fisher was trans until very late into the book and felt that the author could have made it clearer earlier on why only Ned and not Fisher could run the Station. Finally, it was really annoying that all that build up in the story went literally nowhere – once Pendt escapes the Harland, things became boring. There was no action or real excitement and all the interesting stuff happened off page, making this read more like a prequel to a series. It’s really hard to care about a rebellion you can’t see.
The climax of this book was a huge letdown, mainly because the plan the three of them come up with was ridiculous and aside from it actually working, this scene was also such a wasted opportunity for Pendt to confront her mother and aunt. With how smoothly this scene worked out, the stakes didn’t feel high at all, not even a last minute twist to liven it up. There is significant room for a sequel, and I am rather curious about what could happen. Overall, while this book had some great ideas with a lot of potential, the execution just didn’t live up to it. It was unfortunately not to my taste and didn’t really work out for me.
Aetherbound releases on May 25th, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!