REVIEW: Aurora Rising (Aurora Cycle #1) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Authors: Amie Kaufman (website / twitter) and Jay Kristoff (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Rock the Boat

Genre: Science fiction, YA

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.

NOBODY PANIC.

My interest in this book was first piqued when I kept seeing it around instagram for about three months straight last spring. I had a limited idea what to expect, but I thought I might enjoy it. I added it to my birthday/Christmas list and thought I’d get around to it, but with such little knowledge of the authors or the story, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit.

So no-one was more surprised than me by how deeply I loved it. I finished it on Monday and I’m STILL THINKING ABOUT IT, which is making it a little difficult to settle into my next read. It hit every character dynamic and trope I love perfectly and completely blindsided me with it. It was the perfect follow-on from Would Like To Meet in some ways, as that did all my favourite romance tropes really well in a contemporary romance setting, and Aurora Rising has taken all my team-dynamic, character tropes and smashed them out of the park in a science fiction setting. I’m in a happy little cloud of trope heaven and my endorphins are through the roof.

If you’ve ever loved something which has a team set-up where there’s one of every character type, this is the book for you. There’s the hot, charming, brilliant Golden boy; his sexy, sassy, and sarcastic twin sister; their punky, aggressive, and cynical best friend; the tech-head who plays dumb and pervy to deflect from his own genius and inner pain; the science whiz who is brilliant but struggles to connect; the enigmatic fighter who can break you in half with his little finger but maybe (definitely) has anger management issues; and the girl out of time with secret powers she doesn’t know how to control.

Pick your favourite from the list, and you’ll get a decent ride out of it. Mine was Kal, the alien warrior, and boy howdy did that work out well for me in every single way. Perhaps the only character you get comparatively little from is Zila, the scientist, who is very internalised and cerebral. Each character tends to get their own POV chapters on a regular rotation, but Zila only got very few, very short bursts of POV and was largely seen through the eyes of the other characters. This felt like a bit of a shame, but I’m hoping we’ll get more from her in book two as she got a bit of a burst of development towards the end of the book.

Aurora, whose face is on the front of the book, could have been a really irritating character, but she isn’t. The story of a girl who has woken up 200 years out of time is a hard one to do, but she is actually quite delightful. She works really well as the guide for the reader, asking the questions to learn about this new society she has found herself in, but she also doesn’t use her lack of knowledge as an excuse for helplessness or inaction. She adapts and learns and tries hard, while also trying to deal with a trauma. They deal with her confusion really well, but have given her the sort of personality where she isn’t going to wallow in it. This makes her vulnerability that more impactful when it does appear.

The one downside to constantly changing POV is that it meant bits where I would have really loved to see more of a certain character’s experience or thoughts were lost when we swapped to someone else in the scene entirely and they were oblivious to the other person’s inner turmoil. It also meant that we only got flashes of certain emotional storylines rather than seeing them built consistently across the whole book because you only picked them up when you jumped into the narrative of the people involved. Continually switching first person POV isn’t one of my favourite styles if I’m entirely honest. I often find it jarring and it can lead to quite a bitty story Kaufman and Kristoff do a really good job with it here, and this is definitely a book I will be re-reading in future, so the fact that it overcame my issues with the style does speak volumes for how much I enjoyed it. In reality, the overarching story isn’t impacted at all by the jumps in narrator, it’s only bits where there is more nuance in the emotion that I wanted more of. Okay, what I wanted more of was the pining. There are two relationships set up in this book, and there is some really glorious tension, but moments where things happen are cut short by swapping narrator, and you don’t necessarily get the payoff or impact because of this. 

That’s not to say it didn’t land the hits it needed, because it really, really did. 

I’m almost glad I left it so long to pick this up as it means I now only have to wait until May to read the sequel, Aurora Burning, as opposed to a whole year. I’ve got my pre-order in already, and I can’t wait to get cracking on it. These are characters I want to spend more time with, but the plot and world that has been built are fascinating. I love the conceit of the main antagonist, but also the smaller obstacles and opponents they have to navigate. We only saw a comparatively small snapshot of it in this book – I think all the action takes place in less than a week, although I’m not completely sure on that. I want to see book two broaden that out, and show us more of the cultures and worlds that make up this universe.

Briefly:

  • An accessible, fast-paced Science Fantasy which builds itself on the strength of its ensemble cast. Anyone who has spent any time with fanfiction would enjoy the team and character dynamics at play here, and they’re developed and engaging.
  • While I’m not the biggest fan of the first-person, character-swapping narrative structure, it does work very well in this book and gives a chance to develop characters which otherwise might get lost in the pace of the storyline. Sadly, this isn’t quite all the characters, but it is most of them.
  • There aren’t any baggy bits in the plot, it ticks over really nicely and drags you along, with a goal that is suitable for a first book, but leaves enough bigger plot to promise plenty of action for the next books in the series. Which I am very excited about.

Rating: 5/5 – I was honestly caught by surprise by how much this book swept me away, and I can’t wait for book two.

 

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