It hurts my brain trying to figure out if I love or hate this book. The front cover and the title location – a village of hot air balloons strung together – appear steampunk, but it’s not steampunk. It’s post-apocalyptic YA. Something has gone very wrong with a scientific innovation, and the world has been divided into human, mek and beast territory – all of them fighting one another. The plot has two threads: Mei in the Sky Village wants to find her mum, who has been taken by meks. Rom in beast-occupied Los Angeles needs to save his sister, who has been taken by some kind of beast-mek-human hybrid. They are linked through a piece of technology, and become friends. Each of them has the kaimira gene, meaning that they are able to communicate with beast and mek somehow.
The world of the book is brilliantly realised – interesting, action-filled, and meaningful. The characters aren’t so great. They’re very young, and in a moment of mistaken realism, the author doesn’t always overcome that limitation. Eg Mei doesn’t want to be in the sky village, but she has no choice but to passively wait around and gather information in hope that she can help her mum that way. Hers is definitely the weaker plot thread. I also became annoyed at getting told by other characters how smart, fabulous, etc they were – or, sometimes, the opposite (for equally frail reasons). They do tend to pick up new skills rather quickly (always useful, though tending towards Mary Sue-ism), but the most important thing about them is the kaimira gene. Unfortunately, I didn’t find their magic power all that interesting – I need more than magic to find someone interesting – and the pain of needing to find a loved one wasn’t enough for me. Rom spends some time learning to use his power by balancing his own beast, mek and human tendencies – which turned into a slightly heavy-handed metaphor for finding balance between your passionate/destructive, logical, and emotional tendencies.
The key to why I didn’t like it is mainly found inside the cover flap. The phrase “Book One of Five” made my heart sink, knowing that too many authors get tangled up in excessively long-term plots – and “intricately plotted” was another warning sign.
Once I got past Mei’s first section, it was pretty good. The climax was genuinely exciting. But I think, in conclusion, it’s not worth getting into a five-book story at this level of writing ability.
Rating: PG for mild violence
Sample (the first paragraph): Hundreds of hot-air balloons bobbed in the wind, their baskets tied together with long stretches of rope. From the ground, the Sky Village looked like a giant net, poised to capture the clouds as it drifted far above. Mei strained her eyes to make out the figures painted on the two closest balloons – a dragon and a phoenix, both symbols of power.