If you’ve been missing the TV series Firefly or are waiting with bated breath for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, I have some good news. Aurora Rising, the latest collaboration from authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, is the answer to your prayers.
Tyler (Ty) Jones, Squad Leader, First Class, 98th percentile of all cadets in Aurora academy, possessor of a lethal set of dimples and startling good looks, is about to have his ‘golden boy’ record ruined. It’s the night before the draft, that special day when the Alphas (captains) get to choose their squads. As the academy’s star Alpha, Tyler will have first pick of all the cadets. His squad will be made up of the best of the best of that year. Or will it?
Ty, suffering from the worst case of insomnia in his life, takes a spaceship on a one man cruise into the Fold. It’s a space between space that, like an accordion, can push in and condense the galaxy, making travel across the long distances between stars possible. While there, Ty stumbles upon the impossible: a 220-year-old missing colony ship containing a single life, the cryogenically frozen Aurora (Auri) Jie-Lin O’Malley. She’ll be reawakened if Ty can manage to get her off the ship and away from the storm barrelling towards them.
He does manage it, but the rescue costs him. By the time they make it out of the Fold and he completes a rigorous med-bay scan, the draft is over. Ty’s dream squad is now the “losers, discipline cases, and misfits” who were left over when all the other Alphas had taken their pick. He’s stuck with: Syldrathi combat specialist Kaliis (Kal) Idraban Gilwraeth, aka the squadron’s Tank. An elf like creature with the strength of ten men, Kal’s fighting a losing battle with his dark side. Zila Madran may be top of her class in the sciences but she has a nasty tendency to use her classmates as lab rats. Cat Brannok, their Ace (pilot) is good at her job but things have been a little bit awkward between her and Ty since That One Night. Betraskan Finian de Karran de Seelis is in the top tenth percentile of his class and is the master of Tech Division but his black belt in snark can make him a difficult hang. Scarlett Jones, Ty’s older-by-several-minutes twin, the team’s Face (ambassador), can talk the birds down from the trees but can use that same tongue to strip a man of his pride, hope and reason to live.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Ty finds himself with another difficulty. Auri is in desperate need of a second rescue, as the GIA, the scariest government agency around, is after her. They’re convinced she’s the trigger that could “start a war millions of years in the making.” And Ty – and his little band of underdogs – are her only friends in the universe.
This is a light, fun YA novel brimming with humour and inclusivity. Teens who prefer their sci-fi cheery, amusing and with an upbeat tone regarding the future will find a lot to love here. Our band of eccentrics are, of course, actually a group of loyal, moral, misunderstood geniuses who have what it takes to deal with whatever life throws at them. They are all wonderful, except for Ty, who is perfect – a great leader, good friend and savvy captain. In fact, his only imperfection is that he can be so perfect he forgets to be human. Auri is as solid yet mysterious, beautiful yet strange as any girl out of time can be; her frozen state has left her with universe-changing information and it’s her job to convince Ty’s squad that her galaxy-saving intel is worth risking their lives and careers for. There are tragic backstories to add some depth to everyone but really, that just serves as an excuse for the occasional pout, snark or brood. The overall tone here is sunny, with intermittent moments of tear-jerking or sorrow-inducing stress. There is some romance here but it’s mostly at the handholding, briefest of kisses stage. YA fiction has a range right now of books that are for teens but are meant for all ages, and books that appeal strictly to a teen/new adult audience. This is definitely in that latter category.
In terms of the plot, most science fiction novels are amalgamations of and riffs on tales that have gone before. The author’s skill (or lack thereof) shows in how well they are able to spin these old tropes and standards into something wholly new. Aurora Rising is a good work but you can’t help but hear echoes of what inspired it as you turn the pages. The plucky characters à la Guardians of the Galaxy, the mysterious, pivotal gal à la Firefly; and since I don’t want to spoil the plot, I won’t name the 1970s movie the book’s villain seems to come from. This novel is definitely a unique tale but the edges haven’t been smoothed off its influencers enough to make the pieces unrecognizable. Even mixed all together, the popularity of the general narrative – band of lovable oddballs rescues humanity – gives the tale a very familiar feel.
That is both a good and bad thing. Fans of that trope will love finding it so well done here. Unfortunately, though, not doing more than delivering the expected premise means that the book doesn’t quite reach DIK status. In sci-fi/fantasy, delivering a completely fresh take on the old ideas is the gold standard. Simply delivering a well done variation of them is only silver status.
Which Aurora Rising totally is. It’s a solid B of a tale; good, fun, easy to read and a nice way to spend an afternoon. Devotees of the authors will be delighted and those looking for snarky teen sci-fi fun will find a lot to enjoy here.