18-year-old Jarra has a lot to prove. After being awarded one of the military’s highest honours for her role in a daring rescue attempt, Jarra finds herself – and her Ape status – in the spotlight. Jarra is one of the unlucky few born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Derided as an ‘ape’ – a ‘throwback’ – by the rest of the universe, Jarra is on a mission to prove that Earth Girls are just as good as anyone else.
Except now the planet she loves is under threat by what could be humanity’s first ever alien contact. Jarra’s bravery – and specialist knowledge – will once again be at the centre of the maelstrom, but will the rest of the universe consider Earth worth fighting for?
Aaaah, I love this series. I love it SO MUCH.
Right off the top, can I even begin to tell you how much I love that this series takes place in a non-dystopian/non-post-apocalyptic future Earth? I know, it seems like such a simple thing, and yet I literally cannot remember the last time I read an Earth-based future story that didn’t belong to those two heavily trafficked genres, save for these books. But here, Edwards’ Earth is a wonderful continuum of future and past; an Earth where sci-fi travel meets modern archaeological digs, where society didn’t collapse, but instead expanded, spreading out among the stars – only in the process, it left Jarra, and the millions of other “apes” like her (humans whose faulty immune systems keep them trapped on Earth), behind. All in all, it makes for a phenomenally rich landscape to explore, not only in terms of the physical places, such as the decaying remains of Earth’s once-great cities and the fascinating particulars of the dig sites, but also across the many cultural divides, not only between the exos and the apes, but also between the social norms of all the the various colony worlds of this new, far-flung universe. And the ways in which Edwards explores past and present simultaneously, constantly reflecting the history of this future world across the events of the present day – oh, it’s downright brilliant. Yes, this. More of THIS.
And not to beat a point to death, but I really do have to say again just how much this series blows me away in terms of its brilliant moments of cross-cultural misunderstanding. From Fian’s Deltan (reserved) discomfort with all things Betan (racy), to Jarra’s confused incomprehension of some of the anachronisms of Military culture (I particularly loved the moment when Jarra first hears a wolf-whistle, and has no idea what it means, though she quickly concludes from the intended target’s reaction that it’s somehow meant to be humiliating), to the continued exploration of the widely-held prejudice against “apes” like Jarra, each character in this book is entirely steeped in their particular home world’s cultural perspective – and that is downright OUTSTANDING, in terms of both world AND character building. And then to see how these characters push each other into questioning their long-held assumptions, about themselves and each other – oh, it’s just fantastic storytelling.
Now in terms of plot, this book picks up pretty much right where the last one left off, with Jarra and Fian rejoining the rest of their class – a University class of off-world history students (Jarra being the sole “ape” exception) in their requisite foundation-course year on Earth – though quickly Jarra and Fian get swept up by larger, historic events. Now, does the fact that, of all the people on Earth, it’s Jarra and Fian who get sucked into the events surrounding alien contact, take a little bit of swallowing? Yes, a bit – but if you didn’t mind the fact that (mild spoiler) a spaceship just happened to crash on the dig site where Jarra and Fian just happened to be in the first book, then you won’t bat an eyelash at this – I mean, I certainly didn’t. And moreover, you can safely trust in Edwards’ story design, because I really, really liked the intelligent reasons behind why Jarra and Fian were brought on board (figuratively) in the first place, and all together it made for a highly satisfying yarn – one that again forces Jarra to grow, as she is challenged to reexamine her self-identity, i.e. how much she defines herself by her Handicap, in a new light. And while this story may not be bombastic in terms of action or space battles, I still found it to be an immensely satisfying read.
And of course, it almost goes without saying that as a main character, Jarra remains downright wonderful. Impetuous, single-minded, and always full steam ahead, Jarra is definitely a dive-headfirst-without-looking type of girl – and it’s just ridiculously fun to go along with her for the ride, even when she dives right off a cliff. Plus all our other favorite characters are very much in evidence – and from Fian’s wry, stubborn sensibility to Krath’s nardle-brained commentary, from Keon’s lazy brilliance to Playdon’s evil smile, they’re wonderfully distinct, each and every one. Not to mention just ridiculously fun to spend time with.
So in the end, I did just enjoy the heck out of this book. I swallowed it whole, went back ’round to re-read the first book immediately after, and then found myself reading this one all over again – so yes, I freaking love this series, and I can’t wait to see what crazy situation Jarra lands herself in next. Bring on the next Earth adventure!
Byrt Grade: A
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
There’s something about the way Janet Edwards writes that I find incredibly fun and easy to read. I get pulled in, I care about her characters, I tear through the book as quickly as possible, because I need it all NOW.
Edwards shows that speculative fiction needn’t be dystopic, conspiracy-filled or love-triangled to be riveting and satisfying. Amaz – simply amaz.