Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Title: Glow (Sky Chasers, #1)

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan 

Rating: 4 Stars

I read Glow with my heart caught in my throat, flipping pages frantically and waiting for the sick feeling in my stomach to evaporate. Even after having finished this book, though, my heart hasn’t found its way back to my chest; I find it hard to breathe. For all the trouble it gave me, however, Glow has been one of the most satisfying novels I’ve come across this year. Amy Kathleen Ryan’s unapologetic prose and savage characters are the unpretentious realities I seek in a thought-provoking novel and, if nothing else is guaranteed, it is this: Glow will turn your mind inside-out and force you to re-think everything you thought you knew about humanity.

Waverly and Kieran are barely sixteen-years-old, but they’re already considering marriage. As the first generation of children born on the Empyrean, a spaceship that set off for New Earth decades ago, it is their duty to ensure the continuity of the human race. Kieran, already groomed to become the next Captain, is the perfect choice and, despite a few misgivings, Waverly is prepared to do her duty. When the New Horizon, however, the sister-spaceship that set off a year before the Empyrean, looms into view, Waverly and Kieran’s lives are changed forever. After all, the New Horizon should be millions – if not billions – of miles ahead of the Empyrean, so the fact that they have slowed down their vessel to help the Empyrean catch up spells trouble.

And trouble it is. When these two spaceships first set out from Earth, their chances of survival were the same. In fact, the only difference remained the religious beliefs of their crew members. Yet, while the Empyrean solved the fertility issue plaguing their crew, the New Horizon didn’t. Thus, with no children aboard their ship – and therefore no one to carry forth their legacy – the Empyrean falls under attack, one hundred and thirty girls rounded up and kidnapped while dozens of adults fall dead, struggling to defend them. Alone on a spaceship with boys of various ages, Kieran is lost. And alone on a strange vessel, with a dictator named Anne Mather, all Waverly knows is that she must escape – before they touch her.

Glow brings forth a future vision that is both startling and eerie. Not only is Ryan’s world-building impeccable and intricately paced, but it is impossible to find a loop hole within the dystopian world she was built. Moreover, the story itself is nothing short of terrifying: a horror-story of human capabilities when pushed to the utmost degree of sanity. Anne Mather, the obvious “villain” of our tale is manipulative and charismatic – deadly traits to work against – but Ryan imbibes an entire back story to her existence that makes it impossible to view her in a stark black-and-white light.

What makes Glow such a remarkable piece, though, is the fact that Ryan is willing to create unlikeable characters. On the Empyrean, Kieran believes he must lead the remaining crew, particularly as he would someday become Captain. As he begins assuming power, though, he finds opposition in the form of Seth, an abused, but intelligent, teen who has remained jealous of Kieran’s position, status, and engagement to Waverly. As Seth rises to power, undermining Kieran and finding fault with his actions, Kieran fails to achieve what he set out to do. Yet, as the situation aboard the Empyrean becomes increasingly frantic, wrought with shifting allegiances between Seth and Kieran, the true nature of both teenagers becomes apparent. Our loyalties, too, move back-and-forth, sympathizing with one boy and then the next as more and more is revealed. Thus, by the end, it is impossible to discern who is better, who is worse, and who is justified in what they did. Ryan blurs these lines and her stark, direct prose only serves to muddle our brain. After all, without the author telling us who to root for – without her bias leaking through the words – are we siding with a villain or a hero?

Waverly’s case, though different, also has its share of similarities. Stuck on the New Horizon, she must team up to escape Anne Mather – and fast. After all, Mather has made no secret of the fact that the girls have been chosen for their gender; nothing more. It is a shocking situation, particularly as the crew of the New Horizon supports Mather and dares not look too closely at how she handles her power, as long as they finally get what they’ve wanted for so long: children. While Mather’s cruelty is apparent through Waverly’s struggles – many of which left me gasping in outrage – I admired the subtle messages Ryan was able to weave through the narrative. Waverly, as well as many of the other girls, have been subject to sexual harassment in the form of lingering looks or the equivalent of wolf whistles. While Glow isn’t necessarily a feminist piece, the trials and tribulations that women have had to suffer from the discomfort of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence are outlined vividly, further blurring the lines between right and wrong as Ryan explores the decisions taken by these victims and the morality of those choices.

Ultimately, Glow is an intense, dark novel. Ryan’s characters may be teenagers, but the content of this novel is in no way adolescent. It is, solely, for mature readers who are looking for a story to make them think, reflect, and ponder. With just one book, Ryan has shot up to become a favorite author of mine; her writing is evocative, characters complex, and final message poignant. No stone is left unexplored in this psychological study of humanity, which I appreciate. Glow is proof that the Young Adult genre can transcend its artificial barriers of romance, delivering a novel that is worthy to be read, shared, and discussed with readers of all ages.


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  2. I had a feeling you would like this! You're right that it's a very mature and deeply disturbing read. It honestly took me by surprise, I expected just another Across the Universe-type story. And I also agree that there are strong feminist undertones, which I appreciated greatly.
    The second book was even better for me, to be honest, but the ending left me gasping. Flame should be out soon, fortunately, so I'll finally get some answers.
    Wonderful review!

  3. I picked this up a while back and can't entirely recall what happened now. I remember struggling to get through it, unfortunately, so I'm not sure if I'll be continuing with the series just yet. I'm glad that it was more to your liking though, Keertana! It's always impressive when an author, YA or otherwise, can make you think with their story. It's great that you got the depth that you needed with this one. Lovely review! :)

  4. You had me at "dark novel." I think that it's books like these that have the potential to truly make an impact on a reading audience, and I love when I hear that an author approaches such subject matter with grave intelligence. Great review, Keertana :)

  5. Wow Keertana! I really hadn't given this book much consideration, but now after reading your review I find myself wanting to move it to the top of the TBR pile! I love books that really make me think and make me question, those are the ones that always stand out as memorable:) So glad you came out of this book with a new favorite author!

  6. I've had this one on my wishlist, but you have really moved it up that list! I love books that make you think and I'm curious about the darkness in the story. Oh I didn't think it was this good!

  7. You had me after the first paragraph. I mean when books has really great idea and with that world-building and it's beautifully written it's hard to resist them. I like the sound of the characters and I like it has that dark vibe. Great review, Keertana :)

  8. You make this one sound fantastic! I thought it was another fun space adventure, but clearly it is not. I like that this book pushes boundaries and explores darker morality themes. I also love whenever characters are complex and multifaceted. However, it does sound rather triangle-y. Tho maybe the 3 characters aren't all on the same ship? If this is pat of a trilogy, maybe I'll wait unit the final releases to decide whether to start.

    Oh and that stressed out stomach in knots feeling is exactly what I felt while reading When the Sea is Rising Red. It also has a very unique love situation, and some more serious themes. Though the second in the series is even better.

    1. Lauren, there is a cliffhanger after the second book, SPARK, but no love triangle. Ryan avoids mentioning the romance in this book, in large part. While both Seth and Kiernan have feelings for Waverly, she doesn't know Seth well enough in this installment and cares for Kiernan. In SPARK, changed by the events of this novel, Waverly finally figures out where she is - or wants to be - romantically. It's still a very small element, not at all angst-ridden, which I appreciated. I have a feeling you'll really enjoy and appreciate this series, Lauren - I'd love to discuss it with you! FLAME is out January 2014, so the wait for the final installment isn't long, but painful because of the cliffhanger after SPARK. You've been warned. ;)

  9. I don't know that I want to read this personally, but I do want to know what happens. Does that make sense? I guess I don't want to go through the emotional turmoil I think this would put me through, but I'm interested in the outcome. I know I'd be ticked over Waverly's treatment by Anne. I'd be outraged for all these girls. In fact I'm nervous for them just reading this review! Wonderful review, Keertana. I'm anxious to see how things work out and if you're pleased with it. :)

  10. WOW! I have this book and it has just kind of been sitting in my dusty books 'I couldn't wait to own but have since sort of lost interest in' pile and now I'm TOTALLY moving it back to my 'newfound interest' pile (it sounds like I have a lot of piles, doesn't it?) because of this review! Because 4 stars from you means something:)

  11. And Ugh--I just realized how much I hate the world pile--it's kinda gross. So let's change that to STACK. :)

  12. Wow, Keertana! I've had this book forever but never got around to it, because I remember most of the reviews being pretty middling. I may have to pull this out and read it asap after seeing your review. Thank you!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  13. Keertana, can I just say, your reviews are magic? Every time I come here, your reviews (whether positive or negative) are always thoughtful and prolific. I could probably get lost in your reviews all day, but unfortunately, life gets in the way; still, the glowing ones encourage me to put the books on my wish list right away. This review is no exception. I want to know more about the dark world Ryan has created in space. I want to know more about the complexity of the characters and the issues with morality they have to face. This series has all the makings to be something I will love. I need to get on it.

  14. How have I not heard of this?! This sounds absolutely fantastic and your review is lovely, as always. Keertana, you've written reviews of so many fascinating sci fi books now that for a while, at least, I'm going to try to rely on the books you've recommended when looking for a good sci fi read. :)


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