|image courtesy of Veronica Rossi's website|
Aria has lived her entire life inside a Pod. After the coming of the Aether, a destructive wind, it's been the only way for her people to survive- locking themselves inside myriad Pods, and distracting themselves by accessing the Realms, a virtual reality that's "Better than Life." It's true, the Realms are wonderful, but when Aria hasn't heard from her mother in over a month, she goes looking for her- and turns off her Smarteye, which allows her access to the Realms. Her venture goes horribly, terribly wrong, when a fire allows one of the Outsiders to access the Pod. The fire results in the deaths of three people, and her banishment from the Pods. Without any real skills or endurance, she fears for her life in the blasted wasteland beyond.
Perry (or Peregrine, as is his proper name) is wandering, trying to get away from a quarrel with his brother when he decides to try and enter a Pod to get medicine for his dying nephew. He saves Aria from the conflagration, taking her into an outside exit, safe from the flames. After he is almost caught in the blaze, he flees, with only Aria's Smarteye and an apple from the orchard. Little does he know that the Smarteye allows the Pod-Dwellers to track him down...
Though at first glance this book is a seemingly derivative sci-fi adventure, it's worth a second chance. Aria and Perry, the characters through which we experience this story, have refreshingly distinct voices. While Perry has accelerated abilities due to mutations, we don't get a hint of the horrid imbalance common in such stories- Aria holds her own as a character, even though she's been thrown into a completely alien world.
"After a while, he realized that she was managing to keep a relatively straight course too. He'd wanted to see her panic. She hadn't, and that streaked* him even more." - Under the Never Sky, page 152
*annoyed, rankled, disturbed
Aria's relationship with Perry is allowed to grow over the course of the novel. I never once felt as if the author was shoving the characters together and forcing the relationship. They are both highly distrustful of each other, flinging slurs at each other at first, which is understandable as Aria sees Perry as a Savage Outsider and Perry sees Aria as a spoiled, sheltered Mole. As they learn to rely on each other, they grow close. Both Perry and Aria are shown to care deeply for their loved ones, and it is this love which partially allows them to grow closer to one another.
The plot is dynamic, and the world-building is great, without being excessively technical and overly detailed. But it is the wonderful characterization which made me love Under the Never Sky. I look forward to the sequel.