Title: Spark (Sky Chasers, #2)
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Rating: 4.5 Stars
After Glow ripped my heart out, leaving me an emotional wreck, you’d think I’d have been a little more hesitant to crack open the spine of Spark. Not at all. I dove into this novel the first chance I had and refused to emerge until it was over, its last page taunting me with its promise of the “thrilling conclusion” to come Summer 2013. (Needless to say, that last page is a liar as Flame releases January 7th, 2014. I still cannot believe it had the audacity to throw into my face the fact that I still need to wait two months to find out what happens to these characters…two months!) Despite the stunning non-ending of Spark, leaving us on the precipice of immense change for the characters we’ve grown to hate and love, this vicious cliffhanger did, in no way, diminish my love for the novel as a whole. Avoiding Middle Book Syndrome spectacularly, Spark proves to be even more of a mind-fuck than its predecessor ever was.
A month after the events of Glow, Seth still remains a prisoner in the brigs, Kieran the unlawful and un-elected Captain of the Empyrean, and Waverly the girl who left the adults behind on the New Horizon. Although the girls are finally back on the Empyrean, the tension has only escalated, causing Kieran to accelerate the rate of the ship and make frantic contact with Anne Mather to negotiate for the release of their parents. Then, a strange explosion occurs on the Empyrean, freeing Seth from his prison and making him the most obvious suspect. As the crew members soon discover, though, there is a New Horizon terrorist aboard the Empyrean. If that weren’t terrifying enough, Kieran has become consumed by his hunger for control, assuming the role of a dictator Waverly despises and vehemently opposes. As the Empyrean slowly tears itself apart from the inside, will they ever get the adults back? Or are they doomed to fall to the New Horizon…again?
While the events of Spark never take place on the New Horizon, it is a scarier novel for it. Waverly, expecting to be safely back home on the Empyrean, finds her fiancée a changed man and the girls she worked to rescue an ungrateful lot. Thus, suffering under the trauma of her experiences on the New Horizon, the psychological damage slowly begins to grate. While Waverly attempts to create a democratic system of government aboard the Empyrean, lashing out at Kieran’s dictator behavior and vouching for the innocence of Seth, the vessel of the Empyrean becomes a battleground to win supporters. Team Waverly or Team Kieran?
In many ways, this is a political struggle. It is evident to the crew that there will no longer be a wedding between Waverly and Kieran, but choosing between both stubborn individuals is a trial as well. And in politics, nothing is quite fair, just as corruption – of morals, of policies, of people – is at large. Moreover, the savageness of these children comes to light as they slowly destroy one another, their “leaders”, and their hope of survival. It is a brutal, horrible mess, reminding me of what the Hunger Games would have been like if, instead of arrows and knives, the weapons were vitriol and sarcasm. Ryan never bothers to shield her younger audience from these atrocities – which is refreshing. All too often, the plot or scope of a novel will demand difficult decisions that are withheld for the sake of the genre or marketing schemes, but Ryan never hesitates to unearth these realities.
While Waverly is fighting her own inner – and outer – battle, struggling to take some control of a ship where Kieran rules, all while trying not to break down and lose her sanity, Kieran becomes increasingly unstable. Although he is still quick-thinking and intelligent, the religion he raises and his biased policies make him our new “villain.” Of course, there still remains so much gray matter when it comes to Kieran. We know what he’s been through and in an effort to contain hundreds of people – and meet their expectations – he resorts to cruelty. None of the situations these teens are placed in are easy, which make the tough decisions they take all the more plausible – and even forgiving. It is a double-edged sword, one that is difficult to think through. Are there even any villains on these ships anymore? I don’t know, which is both a scary thought and an intriguing one.
While Seth never had a voice in Glow, he does in Spark which is an essential – and smart – tactical decision. As each of these perspectives remains in the third-person, there is no trouble discerning them from one another and I found Seth’s musings to be most interesting. After all the mistakes Seth committed in Glow, I find he is perhaps the most sane and morally correct individual in Spark. Unlike Waverly, Kieran, or the masses of secondary characters, he doesn’t seek to undermine, overthrow, or regain power. Instead, his sole goal is to redeem himself in the eyes of the Empyrean crew and, in particular, Waverly. While the romance in this novel is contained – easily – within a handful of lines, the affection Seth feels for Waverly is palpable, especially as it is in stark contrast with Kieran’s feelings. Although the relationship between Seth and Waverly is subtle, practically non-existent to a large degree, their friendship and understanding goes a long way.
Spark is not a romance, but the small inclusion of true fondness hidden under all the savagery of these survivors was a pleasant glimmer of hope. Even the few tight friendships, the slow build-up of trust, and even the growth – psychological growth that led to a greater understanding of oneself – was written with feeling. While Spark is a more political, thought-provoking installment than its predecessor – and a stronger novel to be sure – this series as a whole is flawless, despite the flaws of its cast. I adore Ryan’s exploration of ambiguous morality throughout these books and for perhaps the first time, I truly cannot predict a single event in Flame. Will everyone continue to turn against one another, or will they finally band together? Who knows? After all, humanity has never been predictable.