The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…
A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering
And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.
(leaning forward so my lips touch the microphone) it’s a YIKES from me!
I, a keen admirer of Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman since 2017 when I read The Illuminae Files, felt fairly positive about this new world, these new characters. I tried to hold on to that wide-eyed optimism while reading this book, but it was like trying to hold on to smoke or shadow. Boredom had its hooks in me before I was even halfway through the novel, and the words soon floated under my gaze, incomprehensible. I was really glad when this one was over, not gonna lie.
That said, Aurora Rising does kick off with a high-concept punch.
There is a dizzying variety of instruction in virtually every sphere of human accomplishment—except being a wanted interstellar fugitive. When Legionnaire Tyler Jones investigates a distress call mere hours before the squad Draft and discovers a 220-year-old cryogenically frozen girl, what he should do and what he would do had no bearing upon each other. Jones misses the Draft but rescues the girl—an endeavor which, heroic though it was, is bound to catch up with him sooner or later. He is assigned Squad Leader to a crew of leftover misfits, and their first mission ends with cataclysm and apocalypse: Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley is explicably no longer encased in frozen cryogel, but is more inexplicably on their ship.
Mistrust immediately spools out between them and Aurora, but a cryptic message from two of their superiors in which they implicitly—but fervently—insist that they protect her, and in light of their acceleration toward doom, the squad decides to mine for answers that will hopefully cast a decent enough light into the depths into which they had all unwisely ventured. However, they quickly find out that they’re facing forces as inexorable as the undertow of a tide, and they had at best a coin flip of coming out of it alive.
There are a few things Aurora Rising does relatively well—from its sturdy premise to its attempts at subverting well-worn tropes (though some elements wind up being huge red herrings) to even some finer points of morality and responsibility pulsing beneath the surface (the novel, however, allows them very little space to grow a thematic argument of any complexity)—but being a gripping read isn’t one of them.
As bursting with enthusiasm as Aurora Rising is, not all of the authors’ choices pan out. The novel is overstuffed with sci-fi spectacle, little of it being particularly fresh. The story sprints past most of its poignant moments to unrelentingly pursue the next plot objective instead, which comes at the cost of a winning story. The plot feels rushed, and the many point-of-view characters are flattened by so little page-time, and regularly cutting to some of them didn’t feel organic either. I soon found myself becoming indifferent to them (except maybe Finian whose shoulders must be strained from hefting the weight of this entire book). I simply didn’t care. I didn’t care so profoundly that a well of cynicism rose in me, and the boredom of it all almost bled my brain front to back.
It doesn’t do the story any favors that the book’s entire narrative bends towards an ending that’s frustratingly glib, and it was all I could not to fling my kindle against the wall in a noisy clamor.
Here is the thing: I signed up for a swashbuckling romp packed full with camaraderie, charisma and quick wit, featuring a crew of diverse misfits wrestling with rejection and the choices that got them into this mess in the first place. But Aurora Rising carries itself with nothing of the funny dialogue, and the yanked heartstring that made The Illuminae Files so winning. With an unexciting plot, characters that are as compelling as a wet ball of yarn, relationships that have zero chemistry (you have SEVEN characters and you decide to pair them all into heterosexual ships? Please. I am bored. I feel like yawning. I am already yawning), and girl-on-girl hate that outstayed the acceptable page limit by a factor of at least three, this novel was a huge let down.
You’d think some cosmic authority would put a limit on how many disappointments one gets in a lifetime, but oh well.