Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Under the Empyrean Sky

Under the Empyrean Sky

Chuck Wendig
For ages 13 and up
Amazon Children's Publishing, 2013   ISBN: 978-1477817209

Cael and his family live in a small town in the Heartland. When Cael was a little boy the town was a decent place to live and then the powerful and ruling class, the Empyrean, decided that the people in the Heartland would no longer grow any food crops. Instead, they would grow Hiram’s Golden Prolific, a new genetically modified form of corn. This new form is fruitful, invasive and it is aggressive in the literal sense of the word. The Empyrean also dictates who the people of Heartland can marry, what kind of work they must do, what food they eat, where they can live, and they impose crippling taxes on everyone.

   Cael is now seventeen and he and his friends have earned the right to be scavengers. They go out on Betty, their hovering land boat, to find anything that might be of value that they can sell. Caeil’s crew, the Big Sky Scavengers, are the second most successful crew in the area and Cael hopes that they will soon be the number one crew in Boxelder, but the Boxelder Butchers put an end to their dream when they set a trap for Betty and she crashes. The captain of that crew, Boyland Barnes Jr. is the mayor’s son and he therefore has a huge advantage over Cael and his friends. The mayor gives Boyland everything he wants while Cael has to struggle every single day to keep Betty going.

   After the crash, Cael and his crew members set off for home, walking through the corn. Then they encounter something remarkable. They find a garden growing in the corn. There are bell peppers, beans, cabbages, and onions. By some miracle these plants are able to withstand the vicious corn plants and they are thriving. Cael is delighted. He can harvest the “garden” and sell the produce. Perhaps then he will be able to afford to repair Betty. Of course, it is illegal to grow produce, so Cael is going to have to be very careful. The Empyrean is not kind to people who defy their laws and who try to break free of their stranglehold on the food supply. They think that they alone have the right to distribute food to the Heartlanders.

   Cael is full of hope when he gets home, but then his father takes his vegetables and cooks them. He reminds Cael that they are illegal and that the local authorities would love an opportunity to give their family trouble.

   Cael’s life gets steadily worse. All seventeen year olds in the Heartland are paired off by the Empyrean in an Obligation ceremony during Harvest Home. Cael is hoping against hope that he will be paired with his girlfriend Gwennie, and praying that he will not be obligated to marry a girl he does not and cannot love. It seems as if the whole world is against him when Gwennie opens her envelope and announces to the people of Boxelder that she is obligated to Boyland Barnes Jr., Cael’s enemy. Cael is obligated to Wanda, a girl he cannot imagine loving. Ever.

   Angry and desperate to have control over something in his life, Cael sets off to find out the garden. Maybe if he can harvest those precious vegetables he can change the direction of his life. He never dreams that his search will have disastrous consequences.

   In this first title in the Heartland Trilogy, the author gives his readers a story that is often very dark, but that is also very compelling and exciting. The tale is beautifully paced and secrets are revealed with great skill. Readers will be eager to find out what happens next to Cael, his friends, and his family.