Release date: TBA
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 locked in combat. Most citizens lucky enough to tour the Continent do so to observe the spectacle and violence of war, a thing long banished in the Spire. For Vaela—a talented apprentice cartographer—the journey is a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.
But Vaela’s dream all too quickly turns to a nightmare as the journey brings her face-to-face with the brutal reality of a war she’s only read about. Observing from the safety of a heli-plane, Vaela is forever changed by the bloody battle waging far beneath her. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, Vaela finds herself much closer to danger than she’d ever imagined. Starving, alone and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.
The Continent revolves around the premise of a dystopia where one continent (Spire) of people live in peace while the other (The Continent) has been warring for centuries; the former is technologically advanced and refuses to interfere in the war of the latter. Vaela is a citizen of the Spire and like every other Spirian, she longs for the tour of the Continent. As the synopsis explains, she then gets stranded and has to survive down there.
The first 20% or so of the book leads up to the events of the accident, which means we gets a full exposition of how much the Spirians consider the people of the Continent to be violent, primitive races. I say race because, unfortunately, this author chose to demarcate the lines of the two warring nations on basis of race – one similar to Native American (‘reddish brown skin’ is explicitly stated) and the other an amalgam (really?) of East Asian cultures (prominently Japanese, with respect to names) – and plays on stereotypes assigned to them, like assigning descriptors like ‘savage’ to the Topi and a group of assassins (ninja fever anyone?) to the Aven’ei. It hurts the book further when it is mentioned that save for one nation, most of the Spire is white; like, they couldn’t have mixed races by now? So, I mean, there is the white savior trope thing going on, the stereotypes of the races – which might make most quit within the first quarter (or less) of the book.
As for the writing, I found it to be very constricted. The dialogue were awkward and stilted (made me gag at points), the language and customs part 18th century, but also not. I wish the world-building would have been better – but my earlier paragraph clearly denotes what is problematic about it, so I’ll move on. Vaela as a character is also not that interesting to read through – she maybe be spirited at times, but she lacks charisma. Also, if she was supposed to be the outsider that resolves the tension, the author could have maybe paid more attention to dispelling the prejudices in her mind. Till the end, the Topi are maintained as a villainous race (surely an entire race, of nearly a 100 thousand people, cannot be evil?) and her being attacked and nearly raped at the start is the only (really) interaction with them. It was shoddy world-building at best and reeks of racist connotations at worst.
That ending – well, if a POC culture was saved by another POC culture, that doesn’t negate the harmful elements of the narrative. But it was also awfully convenient for the Spire to have armed forces at the ready; and let me tell you about a thing called plot holes. Her map was more than 3 months old – plenty of time for forces to change strategy, especially if scouts were involved from both sides. Them arriving on just 12 heli-planes and hoping that an army which was 75k strong at the start (even after a few hours of battle, I would assume plenty were still alive) would just listen and give up in the heat of the battle is naive at best. Another thing that worried me, and was pointedly mentioned in the discussion questions at the end of the book was that how the two nations could have sought other avenues instead of war – like, I don’t know maybe, negotiations? – which is not mentioned anywhere to have happened in the history.
Lastly, the only saving grace of the book maybe the romance and the character relationships. Noro is actually a pretty good book boyfriend, and the secondary Aven’ei characters are nice additions to the plot. Yuki was pretty good as a friend, but like let her have some momentous scenes in battle (she is a warrior) before killing her? *shakes head* If only they weren’t stuck in this world of the book. Overall, the book as it is now, is really not fit for public consumption, not when it brings more harm than enjoyment. At the time of this review, the publishers have moved the publication date, and I hope they are employing more sensitivity towards the depiction of POC cultures and a rewrite.
Received a free galley from Harper Teen, via Edelweiss.