Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is the story of Kieran and Waverly, teenagers on a worldship called the Empyrean that is headed for New Earth after an apparent environmental catastrophe on Earth. Kieran is the captain’s protégé and Waverly is the oldest girl onboard. They are expected to marry and produce children for the colony and seem to be in love, although Waverly has doubts. She feels she is too young to marry and needs time to explore her feelings; at the same time she feels an attraction for the dark and brooding Seth. Seth is the son of the ship’s pilot and pretty much the opposite of Kieran. He has a thing for Waverly as well, so there’s our love triangle.
We get a sense from the outset that something is wrong- there is a sister ship called the New Horizon that is supposed to be light years ahead of them, but has inexplicably appeared nearby and no one is sure why. It appears the captain knows but he’s not telling, and tensions are high on the Empyrean. We soon find out that the long voyage through space made it difficult for the colonists to get pregnant- the Empyrean’s fertility labs were able to solve the problem but the New Horizon was not so fortunate. The New Horizon doesn’t have any children- so they decide to take the Empyrean’s girls for breeding purposes.
There are chilling clues interspersed throughout the book, and that’s one of the things I liked. For example early on Waverly thinks that the New Horizon must have decelerated years ago to allow them to catch up- so immediately you get the feeling that whatever is going to happen, it has been in the works for a while. The poor people on the Empyrean just have no idea what is coming.
The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Kieran and Waverly. After the attack they are separated and go through all kinds of trauma as Waverly struggles to survive on the New Horizon and Kieran attempts to save the Empyrean. Tensions quickly boil over between Kieran and Seth, and when Kieran is betrayed he must somehow fight back from the brink of death. Waverly meanwhile has to adjust to life aboard the New Horizon, and when she discovers that her mother and some of the other parents from the Empyrean are being held onboard, she resolves to rescue them and get off the ship. As the story progresses we realize that not all is as it seems. There are revelations about the Empyrean and its captain that shake Waverly’s confidence at a critical juncture.
If you’re like me you’ll hate some of these characters by the end, and others you won’t be sure about. That’s a testament to the skill of the author. This is not one of those books where you have to wait for things to get going- we learn right at the outset that the New Horizon is nearby and the attack happens very quickly, so the tension is high almost from the outset. Towards the end Waverly is faced with some tough choices, and I mourned her loss of innocence even as I found myself hoping she would exact vengeance.
I found the portrayal of religion to be interesting. We learn early on that the crew of the Empyrean are mostly secular, whereas the New Horizon has a more religious crew. Kieran has a religious background as well, and later in the book when he’s imprisoned he hears a voice in his head. We are left to wonder if this is God speaking to him, or is he hallucinating? The choices he makes change the situation aboard the Empyrean dramatically, and also affects his relationship with Waverly. To be honest I wasn’t crazy about this development, but it does explore themes of faith, forgiveness and leadership.
I was impressed with Glow. It’s a gripping story that doesn’t let go, and I found myself wondering more than a few times “how are they going to get out of this one?”. Having said that, I do think it gets a little unrealistic towards the end. I mean the distances between the two ships are just so great, the kids are so inexperienced and it just wasn’t really plausible to me that everything would fall into place the way it did. Still it’s a thrill ride and highly recommended.
Glow is the first in the Sky Chasers series. The second book is Spark and I look forward to seeing where the story goes.