Summary (provided by Goodreads): For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.
Dee’s Review: Wow—I have so much to say about this novel. I was not anticipating on reading this book at all to be honest. However, to my surprise, I was given an ARC and decided that I should give it a chance. The book’s description reminds me of The Hunger Games or any other dystopian type novel that I’ve read before, which is why I was so turned off by this book initially. Once The Hunger Games took off in popularity, I feel as if there were almost too many dystopian novels that I 1) was just bored of the genre and 2) felt that the whole concept was overdone to the point where I couldn’t recognize anything special or different.
While I would still categorize this novel as a dystopian genre, it isn’t quite like anything else I’ve read before. While most dystopian novels create a futuristic world that is much different than our own, the reader can almost instantly pick out what is wrong with the world (i.e. corrupt leaders, unfair treatment to its citizens, etc.) The people of the Spire are actually quite satisfied with their lives, however. The country has achieved a steady peace among its citizens by eliminating the manufacturing and use of weapons. While crime still exists in this world (it’d be almost impossible to eliminate all conflict completely), the country has rid itself of war.
Our main character, Vaela, grew up in this world and spent her life dedicated to the creation of maps of the Continent, a nearby island that is homed to two warring tribes—the Topi and the Aven’ei. She’s very good at what she does, earning herself an apprenticeship with a talented cartographer. She loves the Continent, but her love stems from her appreciation of its geography, not because of a desire to view the warring tribes (which is why most people visit—yuck). At first I was worried that Vaela would be too much like Katniss for me to find anything unique about her. We learn from the beginning that she is skilled at mapmaking and is quite familiar with the Continent’s landscape., so I thought that it was going to be almost too easy for her to adapt to life on the Continent. However, I was completely wrong. While her skills prove to be useful later on, Vaela needs more than just her knowledge of the land to survive various elements of the Continent.
I thought this was a great move on the author’s part because it perfectly exemplifies how different the two societies are, and while one might seem more advanced and skilled than the other, the other will be solely responsible for keeping Vaela alive.
This novel is getting a lot of criticism, however, and it is rumored that its final publication date has been pushed back to accommodate the problems that people have been having. Many readers are having trouble with the portrayal of the tribes because they are described as “red-skinned savages who drink and rape women.” I completely understand why this would upset people, specifically because this is how Native Americans were portrayed by the English settlers when they came to the New World. I don’t, however, agree with those arguing that the book is racist, meaning I don’t think that Drake purposefully described the tribes this way because she views them like that. I thought the whole point was to make the reader understand how ignorant the Spire society is in terms of their understanding of other people who do not live the same way as they do.
To me, one of the major points this novel was trying to make is how stereotypes are not correct. We’re meant to believe that the Spire society is so peaceful, elegant, and superior to other civilizations that we almost don’t question their hesitation to help the Aven’ei defeat the war against the Topi tribe. Through Vaela’s experience with the Aven’ei tribe, we learn that they are not these savage people that they’ve been described as (much like how historians learned that Native Americans were not the savage beasts that the Colonists made them out to be).
And, to our surprise, we learn that this perfect Spire society isn’t actually as perfect as we thought. If you’re not a citizen of the Spire and don’t abide by their laws and beliefs 100%, they have little desire to provide aid. It could be argued that the people of the Spire are the actual “barbarians” (although I still don’t like using that word even if it applies more so to this group of people).
I really enjoyed this book. I thought Vaela was an extremely likable character and while she may not have been extremely strong and skilled as what we’d expect her to be, we can see how hard she tries to accustom herself to the traditions and lifestyle of the Aven’ei tribe so that she can help protect its people.
Rating: I gave this book a 5 out of 5 stars, which is much, much higher than the average Goodreads rating coming in at a whopping 2.32. *cringe*