Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig Book Review

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy #1) by Check Wendig

Sometime in the future, there are two kinds of people. The wealthy who live on flotillas that drift high above the Earth and the poor working-class people who farm on the ground, watching over and harvesting an invasive genetically engineered corn. As if this existence wasn't already bad, the people of the Heartland suffer from all sorts of ailments, physical mutations, and tumors stemming from (presumably) working with the genetically altered plants. Cael's life is as hard as anyone and more than anything he wants to fight back against the Empyrean, but what can a few teenagers do when up against a government that clearly wants to keep them down?

When I originally read the jacket flap for this book, I thought, bingo...this is my type of book. Not hard sci-fi, but dystopian, with what felt like a promising premise and plot. Genetically engineered corn? Aren't people freaking out about this now? Sadly, this story suffered from too many
clich├ęd characters, some sparse world-building, and didactic social issue ruminations.There is, as seems to be in many stories these days, the gay character. The love triangle. The spunky girl and the sappy girl. The bully. The drunk father. The kindly sad father. 

Wendig creates this world with its social stratas, but we never actually get to see anything beyond the Heartland. Although I understand the author may be holding this in reserve for the trilogy, the result felt stilted. I had a lot of questions, questions that were actually necessary for this story, for this plot. How did things get this way? Why does anyone think this okay? Why does no one know anything about earlier religions, life, geography? There is mention of the schools being closed down, but parents aren't even passing information on to their children here.

Having done a lot of work with the poor here at home and overseas, I found Wendig's descriptions of what would basically be a frontier town rather disturbing. The fathers are all drunks and very few seem to show genuine love or interest for their children. The mothers and women in the story are simply property, traded away at eighteen to men they may or may not love. They, like all the characters in this story, are two-dimensional and cliched in a way that undermines the good things in the story.

Between the cliches was the story of Cael and his father, the only three-dimensional characters of the whole lot. Cael hates his father for sitting back and doing nothing, for just watching as their home and lives are destroyed and ground down by the Empyrean. But it is clear to the reader that Cael's father definitely is not what he seems. That is the heart of a story.

The series has potential. However, I expect a lot more world building in the second book that should have been in this first one. For those who harbor deep mistrust of produce, this may be your thing.
Oh, and if you enjoy those teenage love triangles, you should snatch this one up pronto.