Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan – The first in a trilogy called The Sky Chasers, Glow is a sci-fi novel for the young adult audience. I’m absolutely delighted by the idea of it: true, honest-to-god space adventure, replete with spaceships, artificial gravity, and interstellar colonization, all in a neatly-wrapped package. Unfortunately, the prose, characterization, and treatment of the reader leaves something to be desired.
Our heroes are Waverly and Kieran, two sixteen-somethings aboard an intergalactic spaceship headed for New Earth. The colonists were split between two ships, the Empyrean and the New Horizon; one contains a secular group of colonists, and the other, a religious group. Like many sci-fi writers before her, Ryan examines the role of God in space travel and interstellar imperialism, and shows us where blind belief can lead humankind astray.
Glow is without a doubt a thriller. Ryan has a knack for pace and suspense, and the story she weaves is frightening and intelligent. Unfortunately, she often ruins it with too much exposition. Ryan doesn’t often trust the reader to draw conclusions for himself; instead, she spells out every major revelation in painful detail, and the tension suffers. No emotional rock is left unturned, leaving little to the imagination and often underwhelming the hopeful reader (aka, me).
Characterization in Glow is, unfortunately, quite thin. Waverly is mostly an empty shell of a girl until halfway through the book, when she’s forced to stand up for herself against physical and religious oppression. Even then, I don’t get a sense of her individual characteristics, and everything we know about her seems purely reactionary. She hardly compares to her counterpart, Kieran, who (while having kind of a dumb name) is a fully realized being.
Ryan’s prose is definitely not the best in her genre. It gets the job done, especially in action sequences, but for the rest of the book, Ryan tells far more often than she shows. It wore down on me by the end, and I was ready to put it down when the epilogue finally rolled around. At times I wasn’t sure whether this book was intended as a young adult or a middle-grade book, simply because Ryan assumes a certain low level of intelligence from her reader.
Unfortunately, the ending of Glow is not nearly as stellar as the middle. Characters make unbelievable choices, and it begins to feel more like a Shakespearean miscommunication comedy than a space opera. I’m not sure where the trilogy obsession came from with young adult books, but I have a hard time seeing how The Sky Chasers will successfully play out for another two novels.
Regardless, Glow is a great introduction of sci-fi into the young adult genre, and I’m excited to see its popularity grow if not entirely for that purpose. The plot is fast-paced and thrilling, even if the execution leaves something to be desired.
This book gets: ♥♥♥ out of 5