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The Heartland Trilogy #1

Under the Empyrean Sky

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Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow. And the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

354 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Chuck Wendig

184 books5,607 followers
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, a screenwriter, and a freelance penmonkey.
He has contributed over two million words to the roleplaying game industry, and was the developer of the popular Hunter: The Vigil game line (White Wolf Game Studios / CCP).

He, along with writing partner Lance Weiler, is a fellow of the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriter's Lab (2010). Their short film, Pandemic, will show at the Sundance Film Festival 2011, and their feature film HiM is in development with producer Ted Hope.

Chuck's novel Double Dead will be out in November, 2011.

He's written too much. He should probably stop. Give him a wide berth, as he might be drunk and untrustworthy. He currently lives in the wilds of Pennsyltucky with a wonderful wife and two very stupid dogs. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

You can find him at his website, terribleminds.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 382 reviews
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,574 reviews5,911 followers
September 11, 2015
Corn is king. The stuff has pretty much taken over in this book (I would go on a foodie rant but I'm restraining myself).
This is not your heritage corn though. This stuff is a Monsanto dream.
Way Pop told it, the Empyrean crossbred the corn with a handful of other plants: kudzu, flytraps, some kind of nightshade. Called it Hiram's Golden Prolific.

Living in the "Heartland" means having to deal with this corn. The life in the Heartland isn't easy either. The corn causes tumors and short life spans for the people that live there. But life there they must. They are watched over by the Empyrean's.

The Empyrean's have changed the way people live. No more fresh vegetables (they are illegal), you have to work in factories to process the corn, and then all the teenagers get to submit to the Obligation. They get "obligated" to their future mate at age 17. They all must show up at the public event and a representative from Empyrean comes down to name who their future mates are.

Cael McAvoy is about to turn 17. He and his group of friends run a scavenger ship that runs over the tops of the corn every day hoping to find something that will give them extra "ace notes" so they can buy much needed supplies for their families.

Cael is tired of living under Emyrean's rules too. He and his friends get fed up with some dang corn.

I actually ended up liking this book more than I thought I would. I thought when I began reading it that it was a knock-off of Hunger Games and it is somewhat but it was still a fun read. Plus, Chuck Wendig cracks me up. There are some new cuss words in the book that I'm sure I'll put to use at some point in time.

Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,929 reviews10.6k followers
March 27, 2015
In the Heartland, genetically modified corn has overrun everything and people struggle just to survive. Young Cael McAvoy is the leader of a salvage crew, finding scraps of a bygone age to sell to bring in money for his home town, Boxelder. But when Cael and his crew find some forbidden plants growing wild amongst the corn, things quickly spin out of control...

Chuck Wendig's foray into YA dystopia is an interesting tale. It reminds me of Ship Breaker, to an extent. A genetically modified corn species has overrun the United States and probably the rest of the world. The haves called the Empyrean, live in floating city ships and the have-nots live on the ground, processing the corn and just trying to survive.

Like all YA, there's something of a love triangle, or possibly a parallelogram. Cael wants Gwennie but she's Obligated to someone else. Cael is Obligated to Wanda but isn't really interested in her. And Cael's arch-nemesis, Boyland Barnes, is Obligated to Gwennie. The teen love isn't an integral part of the story, blessedly. The crux of the story is what Cael and his friends uncover and the secrets they unravel because of it.

There are a lot of interesting concepts in Under the Empyrean Sky, like a lottery that lets one Heartland family a year be selected to join the Empyreans, the Blight, a disease that gradually turns the victim into some sort of corn-based monster, and the corn itself, invasive corn that happens to be carnivorous to some degree.

Pretty much my only gripe is that I found a few of the twists to be all too predictable. It's the first book in a trilogy but stands pretty well on its own. All things considered, I'm glad I spent this month's free Kindle loan on it. Four out of five stars.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,448 reviews7,552 followers
September 11, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

I should have immediately wanted to read Under the Empyrean Sky. I mean, it takes place in corn country – a place where I’ve spent my entire life. Need proof? Here’s a picture of some family members in my grandfather-in-law’s backyard:

Chicago commercial photographers

(Please note that due to TROLLS the part of said family members is being played by Mitchell and Momma June of Honey Boo Boo fame. See Trolls, I make the fat jokes before you can. Ha!)

I no longer live in that hometown, but check out my view on the way to my kids’ various baseball games and practices:

Chicago commercial photographers

Yeah. This world seemed really realistic to me.

Many thanks to The Real Dan for putting this one on my radar. I had completely zipped past it because the title didn’t perk my interest, but after seeing Dan’s high rating and realizing this was a book written by Chuck Wendig of Atlanta Burns fame I figured it might not be the typical Mary Sue type of YA dystopian fare. I was right. If you’re looking for instalovin’ crybabies, Under the Empyrean Sky probably isn’t the book for you. Buuuuuuut, if you’re looking for a lot of action that all takes place in a world that hasn’t been done before, this might be a winner. Full disclosure: There’s also a leeeeeetle love – I mean there just has to be some drama in these somewhere, right??

Chicago commercial photographers
(*sings they found love in a corny place – they found love in a coooooorny place*)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the world. The “world” I keep speaking of is probably one we’ll live in the next 5 or 10 years. A new breed of corn was created by Monsanto the muckity mucks of the world and it pretty much took over . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

Now the rich live in hovercrafts of a sort above the Earth’s surface while the poors all live at ground level with only a couple of job options: (1) constantly harvest this inedible corn for the bigwigs so they can turn it into fuel, or (2) work as Big Sky Scavengers on land boats and harvest anything of value they find amongst the overgrown fields. Cael and his buddies went for door #2 and, although still poor, they’ve been able to make ends meet. When they come across a vegetable garden that has somehow managed to survive amongst the aggressive corn they think they’ve found their golden ticket . . . but they have no idea what they’ve really discovered.

I ran the gamut of these types of books back in the Divergent, Hunger Games, Maze Runner, etc. days so I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to rating them. This one was good. Solid story, solid characters, solid dialogue. And really? Who doesn’t love corn? I mean just look:

Cats love it . . .

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Dogs love it . . .

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(^^^Corn dog. Ha!)

Bruce Willis really loves it . . .

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Even if you don’t love eating it, you can murder people with it instead . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

“That’s life in the Heartland.”

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley!

Profile Image for Choko.
1,202 reviews2,584 followers
September 28, 2020
*** 3.25 ***

Hahahaha! My first and lasting impression while reading this book was - maaaaannn, this author sure hates corn 🌽🌽🌽 and the Midwest, or as he calls it, the Heartland and the people who live in it. Being that I am one of those who lives in the heart of the Heartland, I actually understand the feeling. As the characters are known to say, with not little resentment, "This is the life in the Heartland!"... However, corn 🌽 must have harmed Mr. Chuck Wendig somehow, because in his dystopian version of it, the author has created an aggressively invasive and possibly carnivores species of 🌽, which has taken over the continent as the predominant and smothering all other crops plant life. Everything is corn! And fruits are not only unavailable, but also illegal, forbidden by the law of the Empyrean, a religiously supported rulerships of an elite who live in floating cities in the sky. So guess what the main point of rebellion is? Fruits and vegetables!!! Yes, and me being a vegetarian, I can totally stand behind such bold subversion of the ruling class 😃. I couldn't imagine the horror of living without strawberries, raspberries and bananas!!! So the rebels get my support...

This is the first book by this author I have picked up, mostly by accident, but I don't regret it. I wonder, however, if it is representative of his work as a whole. I have another of his series on my TBR, and I am not sure if this is a very encouraging read to have as a sample. This is a Young Adult Dystopia, and despite having an interesting concept, I had a very hard time empathizing with any of the characters and found only one of them even remotely likable. Yes, they are teenagers and the hormones are obviously overwhelming their thought processes, but darn it, very little made actual sense. The boys and men were very erratic, the girls and women were completely marginalized and objectified, and the attractive=good for the females was not pleasant to read, but if it was just it, I would have accepted it as just one of those things we are programmed to expect as a society. I understand the author is giving us a dystopic version of our world and in such, the marginalizing of the individual and women in particular seem to be the things we expect to be established first. But maybe, just maybe if we are shown a bit of actual, plausible "real" woman with thoughts and feelings that show her own capacity to think and be strong, instead of being told she is such while giving us no evidence of it, we could see the women of this society as worthy individuals trapped in an unjust system... As is, the ladies are there as objects for the guys to squabble over and to be put in position for the smart and brave dudes to come to their rescue...

As I said, the driving idea is very interesting to me, but I am not sure about the execution. I hope that the next book will straighten out those little negatives and we could enjoy a less erratic and more polished storytelling 🙂.
Profile Image for Frankie Brown.
Author 7 books116 followers
February 4, 2014
I liked Under the Empyrean Sky -- it entertained me, it was thought-provoking in many places, and it offered a compelling, disturbing view of a future America overrun by mutant corn.

This would have been a solid four-star review, if not for one major problem: the book's treatment of women. This particularly upset me, because as an avid reader of Chuck Wendig's blog, it was my understanding that he's aware of the mistreatment of women in literature.

The chapters told from women's point of view don't offer a compelling characterization of them. This in contrast with the chapters told from male characters' perspectives -- every male character had depth and an elucidating back story. The women were all defined by their relationships with men. All of them except for the (!!) antagonist. But even she couldn't get through a chapter without mentioning her husband.

The way the main character, Cael, treated his love interest, Gwennie, made it impossible for me to sympathize with him. In fact, he gave all the tell-tale signs of being an emotional abuser: claiming to love her and then calling her a slut and accusing her of wearing "whore paint." Worse, Gwennie just stands there and takes the abuse. She doesn't stand up for herself, even though her behavior is completely reasonable.

I understand that adolescence isn't a reasonable time. I understand that hormones rage and that Under the Empyrean Sky was set in a classically patriarchal society. But I feel like Wendig dropped the ball in a major way with his portrayal of women in this book. He could have made them strong. Compelling. Multidimensional. Instead, he made them objects.

I will continue to read Chuck Wendig's blog and follow him on twitter, but -- and I very much regret to say this -- I won't be continuing this series.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
July 24, 2019
This is a pretty cool mix between rural farmer YA life and a wickedly evil genetic nightmare of a world with a richer world floating above them. I mean, sure, it's about friendship and rivalries and getting on rickety hoverboats and avoiding the specter of genetic mutations deep in the plants that start turning people into walking cornfields.

Details. It's all in the details. :)

The YA stuff was certainly competent even if I'm not all about the rural farmland stuff. I really, really loved the horror elements, however. The worldbuilding made the craziest stuff fairly commonplace and it really set me on edge. :) A lot of WTF moments that I loved.

Other than that, we hardly got any page-time with the OTHER folks in the sky, but I get the feeling we're gonna. Especially now that everything in Cael's life has gone to hell. :)
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
May 11, 2015
This was an e-ARC I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I thought it was really fantastic, but honestly, I'm also a little lost as to how to talk about it. To understand, I guess you have to be at least a little familiar with Chuck Wendig and his writing. If you're not, then you're in for a treat...or a shock. Or both.

I only just became a fan of the author myself, having recently read The Blue Blazes and Blackbirds. I liked them a lot, and especially adored the latter. But already, I knew enough to be skeptical when I saw that this was a Young Adult novel. Based on the books I've read by him, let's just say YA is pretty much the last thing to come to mind when I think about Chuck Wendig. Instead, I think "dark, twisted and gritty", "intensely violent", and "slick snappy one-liners often delivered in a terrible ear-shrivelingly foul manner".

I had to wonder, Is he going to be dialing it back for this? My guess was that he would have to, for a YA novel. And if that's the case, how much? Is this still going to read like a book by the Chuck Wendig I know and love? The answer, thankfully, was yes. The story here is definitely all Wendig, but just imagine it tweaked a bit around the edges to make it more appealing to the YA reading audience.

The book begins by introducing us to 17-year-old Cael McAvoy and his life in the Heartland. The Heartland is interesting -- imagine a dystopian Midwest-type setting where a particularly aggressive species of corn has taken over, creating an ocean of corn as far as the eye can see. As the leader of his scavenging team, Cael captains a small airboat over the cornfields day after day, scrounging for valuables and useful materials to sell.

But it's never enough. The Empyrean government oversees life in the Heartland, literally looking down on all of them from above in their luxurious sky flotillas, while people like Cael and his friends and family are struggling to survive. Heartlanders have to deal with poor working conditions, disease, a corrupt mayor and the oppressive government, but Cael has pretty much accepted this as the way things are...until Obligation Day comes and Cael stands to lose the love of his life.

As you can see, this book has all the trappings of a YA novel, with its dystopian world and teen protagonists. It also involves an authoritarian ceremony where the Empyreans pick the Heartlanders mates for them, resulting in uncertainty for the young lovers Cael and his girlfriend Gwennie. The book even hints at a blossoming love triangle.

But while it certainly has the feel of a YA novel, to me it also doesn't. And here's where I struggle to find the words to explain why I feel this way, because on some level I think someone not already familiar with Chuck Wendig or his books will be completely blindsided by this book -- which could be good. To his fans and readers open to different takes on YA fiction, this will definitely be a refreshing change. I've always felt that Chuck Wendig's books have a "presence" about them, and it exists here as well. It's reflected in the dialogue, the characters, and the plot, which retains some of its grittiness and what makes Wendig's books so great. Under the Empyrean Sky might be YA, but I'd still say it's geared more towards "older YA". Speaking of which, Wendig does have a hilarious way with words that makes swearing almost seem like a separate art form -- so while foul language generally doesn't bother me one bit, do beware if it does bother you, especially since some of it is on the vulgar side.

The thing I loved best, though, is the world building. The story in this book takes its time and in my opinion doesn't really start picking up speed until the halfway point, but that's because so much of the first half is dedicated to bringing the Heartland to life and describing the hardships of its people. I love books like this and The Blue Blazes where Chuck Wendig really gets to show off his talent for creating unique and highly detailed settings, because he's so obviously good at coming up with all these awesome ideas. Two words: piss-blizzards -- or the stifling yellow corn pollen wind storms that plague the Heartland, I love it.

Really, my only criticism is that I wish Cael was a little more likeable. It helps, especially in a YA novel. But honestly, I really struggled to be sympathetic to Cael's character, at least in the beginning, since he often came off as immature, bossy and a bit of a jerk even to his friends. He also tended to be driven by his angry impulses and hormones, but then again, as they say, "Boys will be boys". Thankfully, I did start liking Cael (or at the very least, got more used to him) enough that I was staunchly rooting for him and his team by the end of the book. And that's the important thing.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
October 17, 2022
Corn in the Heartland.

Type those words and most folks will think of a scene from a John Cougar Mellancamp music video. In Chuck Wendig’s able hands, though, they become the basis for a dystopian landscape filled with Children of the Corn images and some creepy kudzu like Little Shop of Horrors flora.

This was a decidedly American fantasy that also made me think of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series in that magical realism sparks absurdist caricatures of life in a weird farm setting.

In the future, maybe closer than we think, the American farmlands have been transformed into Hunger Games like communities where the Empyrean forces fly around on floating flotillas of dystopian oppression while the folks not so lucky wage a losing battle for sustenance down in the mud of the Heartland, where mutated corn fields are dangerous, and the people are being pushed down under totalitarian rule from above.

Some of the images also made me think of Dan Simmons Hyperion books what with land yachts hovering over deadly fields.

Wendig is a good one for fantasy world building and this one was fun to read if a little on the light reading side of things. While there are horror elements of this otherwise cool fantasy, and some thought-provoking scenes, this rarely gets above absurdist theater.

But that’s OK, it works. And it was a fun read.

This is, of course, the first book in a trilogy, and I MAY read the rest, it was good enough for a consideration.

Recommended for Wendig fans, dystopian connoisseurs, fantasy aficionados and if you like KORN.

Profile Image for Steven.
1,067 reviews383 followers
August 10, 2015
Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
Published 2013, Skyscape
Stars: ★★★★☆
Review also posted at: Slapdash & Sundry

First, thanks to Netgalley for providing me with the Trilogy for review. Not only do I get to read the whole thing and provide my unbridled opinion on it, but I get to do it for CHUCK books!!! (Check out his Miriam Black series if you want a prime example of awesomeness.) So thanks Netgalley. Other than these review copies, I got nothing in return for my review (well, maybe some satisfaction from reading a great book!)

Chuck's world this time is far from that of Miriam and her darkness. It's a bright land of... corn. Corn everywhere. As far as the eye can see... corn. Not just any corn, but corn so GMO'd that it's barely edible and can move on its own. Add yet another creepy level to the already creepy endless cornfield. Yikes.

The Heartlanders live on the surface of the planet, tending the out-of-control kudzu-like corn and providing labor and supplies to the Empyrean, the rich people who live above in giant flotillas in the sky.

Enter Cael and his friends. They're scavengers, trying to find anything they can to sell and provide for their families and their town. But that's all about to change...

This book is drastically different in tone from Chuck's other works. It's YA for one, but it's also a big story -- overall, the first one points the way towards what I think will be a revolution and a change in the status quo of Cael's entire world.

And I think the journey is going to be a good one, especially if it's half as fun and easy to tear through as this book one of the trilogy.
Profile Image for Tracy.
Author 6 books517 followers
November 12, 2015
Under the Empyrean Sky is dystopian sci-fi which transports the reader effortlessly into its world and carries them along in a fast paced story with just about everything you could want.

Within the first two pages, the reader immediately knows what is at stake for the main character, Cael, and gets a good glimpse of the broader political and social constructs of this world – brilliant. (I wish I read more books that did this so quickly and so well.)

Cael McAvoy lives in the Heartland and the only crop the government allows the people to grow is a genetically modified strain of corn. This corn is aggressive, wiping out other species and even trying to trap and consume people within its fields. It is also inedible.

Heartland's citizens are malnourished and suffering from different forms of cancer. Cael and his friends are scavengers sailing their ship above the corn looking for anything of value to supplement their families’ incomes. Meanwhile, the Empryean elite live in opulent sky flotillas. The government brutally suppresses all rebellion and controls almost all aspects of the lives of those in the Heartland.

Cael is sick of the injustices of his life…

Ok, so you know how this goes - our hero is going to become involved in a rebellion.

Despite the fact that at its heart this is an age old tale, Wendig executes it brilliantly and the reader is left wanting to read more. There were no surprises for me in this book, yet I loved every minute of it.

Four Stars!
Profile Image for Kristin  (MyBookishWays Reviews).
601 reviews205 followers
November 5, 2013

Cael McAvoy and his friends live in the Heartland, where corn grows in spades, but Heartland’s people can’t eat it. In fact, some would say the corn is alive. One thing is for sure, it fuels everything that the Empyreans need, in their kingdom in the clouds, while Heartland’s citizens survive on scraps, because the land can’t grow anything else. Cael is, however, captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, and they’re pretty darn good at what they do, even if the mayor’s son and his crew constantly try to sabotage them. Life is hard, but not terrible, until the love of his life, Gwennie, gets Obligated to someone else, someone he hates. Soon, however, Cael and his friends discover a patch of fresh veggies and fruit growing amidst the corn, and what it signifies could change the lives of the Heartlanders, but what to do? If Cael thought life was interesting before, it’s about to get downright scary, and it certainly doesn’t help that his sister has run away, leaving him with a father that he feels does nothing to help the family and a mother who is crippled by tumors.

Most of you know by now that I love anything that Chuck Wendig writes, and his first foray into YA is a winner, inside and out. I love the world of the Heartland, where corn will attack you if you linger too long in the fields and the Blight can strike anyone at any time, causing horrible mutations and, sometimes, insanity. If you’re already a fan of his work, you know how good Wendig is at imagery, and it’s on fine display here, in this post- apocalyptic world that echoes, in some ways, the Wild West, but with hoverboards and of course, killer corn. Perhaps among one of the creepiest elements of this book is the Lottery, which one family wins every year, awarding the winner a trip to the sky, to live in promised luxury. Yet, the reader gets the distinct impression that heading to the clouds may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but you won’t find out in this installment. Since Cael’s sister has hitched a ride into the sky, I’m sure we’ll find out more in the next book, but the wait will be excruciating, at least for this reader. If you like your dystopian heavy on the creepy, with plenty of rebellious and strong characters, you’re in for a real treat. This one will appeal to teens and adults alike, and it’s not to be missed!
Profile Image for Monica.
387 reviews84 followers
July 21, 2014
This review was originally posted on Avid Reviews: www.avidfantasyreviews.wordpress.com

Under the Empyrean Sky is a dystopian novel and the first installment in the Heartland Trilogy. Though the dystopian future has recently become an extremely popular trope, Wendig’s novel stands apart from the rest with a very unique vision of our planet’s future. The story holds an environmental message at its heart, and tackles the issues of genetic modification, the use of pesticides, and the dangers of letting a single crop and the megacorporations that regulate it control the vast majority of the food market. Wendig manages to incorporate his message into a wonderful story that is filled with well-developed characters and a fast paced plot that leaves the reader on the edge of her seat. It is a dystopian novel with real heart, and is one of the best books I have read in the science fiction genre in quite a while.

The story follows the story of Cael McAvoy, a teenage boy who lives in a small town in the middle of a sea of corn. Cael’s town is part of the Heartland, which is ruled by the Empyrean government. The Empyrean’s have everything; they live in cities that float above the earth, and are privy to all the comforts that one can dream of. But the Heartland is only allowed to grow on crop: corn, and their entire lives revolve around it. The corn is so genetically modified that it is extremely aggressive, and between the fight to keep the corn from overrunning their homes and the consumption of the corn and its bi-products, the people of Heartland are often riddled with tumors, growths and deformities. Ceal and his friends are extremely tired of living life on the ground, and coming up soon is the Obligation Ceremony where the government will choose their spouses for them. Cael is already in love, and he knows the odds are extremely good that he will lose his Gwennie forever. Cael realizes that in order to live the life he wants, he will have to make his own luck, even if it means defying the privileged Empyreans. But how will he fight against people who have everything? And even if he does succeed, what will happen to his family and his home when he brings the wrath of the Empyreans to the Heartland?

Under the Empyrean Sky contains many of the aspects that people look for in a dystopian novel. There is an enormous gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” there is an all-powerful government that manages to control every aspect of its citizens lives, and there is even a love story between two people who are not allowed to be together. But Wendig adds so many other elements to this novel that I believe it will please both those looking for a familiar dystopian story and those who are looking to read something a bit more unique. It is very easy to become absorbed in Cael’s world, and it is the details of this world that made the story especially enjoyable for me. I also liked Wendig’s ability to write characters that the reader cares about. Even though there were not many characters that were morally ambiguous, or that took a while to gain the reader’s loyalty, I found myself rooting for the protagonists and loathing the antagonists.

Despite the novel’s environmental message, this is not the kind of story that is written to challenge the reader with flowing prose and enigmatic plot lines. It is a fun read which is set in a captivating world, and it still manages to make the reader think about the environmental ramifications of the way we grow and purchase our food. The plot stays consistently engaging, with no real slow points to the story. I also found the novel to be well written, and it is perfect for anyone that wants an easy and enjoyable read.

Overall, I would rate this book a 7.75/10.
Profile Image for Rob.
72 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2020
This was definitely written with a younger audience target base, which I knew before buying it, but I still thought it was worth a shot after reading Wanderers, which I was pleasantly surprised with. Under The Empyrean Sky is still enjoyable for a reader of any age, it has good pace, nice elements and the characters are ok. But I have to admit I constantly thought to myself, while reading, that this would have been amazing if written as an adult horror sci-fi...but that's just me.
There isn't much in the way of plot, it all feels quite static, as if we're being prepared for the next books in the series, which is fine if your plan was always to read all three books in the Heartland trilogy, the second and third being Blightborn and The Harvest. And if you do read this first book you will definitely want to read the next.
Despite the couple of gripes I have with the book it is still very enjoyable and definitely worth a read. Chuck Wendig's writing is very consistent and colourful and he's painted a fantastic world. I for one am anxious to see where we go from here.
And yes, I have bought the other two books in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Aentee.
136 reviews438 followers
August 10, 2015
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley + Skyscape in exchange for an honest review.

I had such a hard time writing this review, as this book fell victim to my dystopia burnout (I thought Red Rising cured me, oops). I really wanted to like this book because i) I like reading the author’s blog and ii) these covers are freaking amazing (yes, judge away!). Alas, I didn’t love or hate it – I felt plain meh.

The setting was my favourite part of this book. Set in a futuristic world where mutant corn have taken over the Earth and is the only crop the people of the Heartland can sow. Above them lives the Empyrean in their floatilla, who has access to luxuries and rigorously control the planting of crops and the distribution of wealth. It reminded me a bit of Interstellar, one of my favourite movies last year, where the Earth could only sustain okra and corn.

As with all dystopia, we get to see elements of the oppressor and the oppressed. Heartlanders live in poverty under the Empyrean sky (points for using the title!). Not only are they starving and malnourished, many of their kinds also suffer from an advanced form of cancer, hinted as a side effect from consumption of genetically modified corn. There’s also the Blight, a creepy mutation that reminds me a little of The Wood’s effect in Uprooted.

While I thought that the book had quite a solid setting, I could not wholly get into it. As mentioned, I’ve seen similar elements in other media I’ve consumed. This is no fault of the book, as it came out before both Interstellar and Uprooted – it’s a problem with me for failing to be completely objective.

The main character of this trilogy is Cael, a disillusioned teen living in the Heartland. He captains a salvage crew, traveling around the Heartland with his crewmate to find bits and bobs to sell. They stumble on a garden growing fresh, but illegal vegetables and that’s when the plot starts taking off.

I found Cael hard to relate too, another thing that left me cold about the book. He’s all blustery bravado and act on instinct rather than out of thought – the opposite of me, basically. His internal conflict, especially in regards to his love for Gwennie, was something I struggled to empathise with. For a guy that’s meant to love her, he treats her kind of terribly? I also found his friends a bit hard to differentiate, oops. There are points in this book where the narration changes POV and I didn’t even notice because they sounded pretty much the same to me, that’s always a bad sign – especially because in general I adore multiple narrative.

I would have also love to see more female characters doing stuff in these books. Gwennie has little agency and is sidelined to a love interest. Cael treats his betrothed quite poorly, but she’s barely a character. I would love to have seen more of Cael’s rebellious, free-spirited sister – but she disappeared 10% into the book… there’s hopes that she will feature more prominently in the sequel, though.

The pacing was a little bit off for this book, I understand that it’s only the first book in the trilogy – but I feel that nothing happens for the first half or so. Then towards the last 20%, the plot reached breakneck speed and shit got real very abruptly.

I felt that the entire book was set up for the rest of the trilogy, leaving a lot more questions than answers – I felt a little unfulfilled. For example, the teenagers in the Heartland have to be Obligated at 17, destined to permanently mate with a chosen member of the opposite sex. Why? No explanation. Also, once a year, a family from the Heartland wins the lottery to be taken to live on the floatilla. Why? Also no explanation. I understand these things are being saved for the next book- but I sorta want to see the first book in the trilogy to do some legwork to keep me as a reader, ya know?

I can really get behind the themes and messages that this book is trying to send. Dystopia should be all about making social commentary, and this book highlight the dangers of GMO, monopoly on food resources, and all those good environmental messages. However, despite my intentions, I just couldn’t really connect with the story or characters. I think I’ll be swearing off dystopia for another couple of months. If you’re looking for another interesting take on dystopia, I think you’ll like this one more than I did.
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews257 followers
April 3, 2020

Excellent setup for a series! Nick Podehl was great and the story was like a runaway train. The very start is a bit slow but it doesn't last for long. I should have known that a story by Wendig would have me flopping around the extremes of reader response. Lots of action, many layers of social inequality and cool steampunk-mad max world.
Profile Image for Jess.
439 reviews77 followers
August 23, 2016
Chuck Wendig is like the literary hype man of innovative genre fiction. He's all "AWWWWW YISS! YOU WANT SOME DYSTOPIAN CLASS WARFARE? YOU WANT SOME CREEPY ASS BIOLOGICAL WARFARE? YOU WANT A COMPLEX YA HERO WITH ANGST, HUMOR, AND DESPERATE MOTIVATIONS? YOU WANT IT? WELL I GOT IT. AWWWWW YEAH, COME ON AND GIT IT!" And the result is so damn energizing and exciting and goddamn cool as fuck that it ultimately distracts me from the inconsistencies and problems in the narrative.

And y'know what? I'm pretty ok with that. Entertain me, pen monkey, and I will forgive you for all your literary sins.

Because oh baby is this entertaining. It's basically the story of how Boy Katniss, armed with a wicked slingshot and sense of humor instead of a bow and PTSD, plots to take down his homeland's tyrannical, bourgeois overlords, who--in a stroke of allegorical perfection--are literally living over him and his dirt-farming neighbors in massive hovering flotillas. Cael and Co. live in the Heartland, a clearly euphemistic name for the hell hole that the surface of Earth has become. They have one purpose: to cultivate and harvest Hiram's Golden Prolific, a biologically engineered strain of corn that is so pervasive, autonomous, and hyper-intelligent (for a plant), that it has basically taken over the surface of the known world. It serves as fuel, plastic, construction material, pretty much everything except actual food, for the overlords, the "Empyrean." Sucks for the Heartlanders though, because not only do the chemicals used to control the corn leave them covered in tumors and birth defects, but the corn itself can cause a terrifying parasitic disease known as the Blight.

So the bubble of class resentment is ready to burst and our downtrodden young hero is ready to take up arms (slingshot) against his oppressors. A great premise, and I'll fight anyone who says it's been overdone. I gobbled it up and I'm ready for seconds.

Now that I've gotten the effusive praise out of the way, it's time to start nitpicking the issues, in list format. Be warned, slight spoilers follow.

1. The Obligation. Every 17-year-old goes through a public ceremony in which their arranged marriage is... arranged. They then have a year before they're married to get to know each other. As you can imagine, this is a huge fucking problem if, say, you end up Obligated to someone who is not your current girlfriend. Spoiler alert, this is exactly what happens to Cael. What is never explained is a) why the Empyrean arrange marriages between the Heartlanders, b) what criteria they use for arranging the marriages, and c) how, as it's later revealed, at least one couple managed to get out of their Obligations years earlier and marry for love. And while it's frustrating to not have this all explained, it's not quite as frustrating as the fact that the author was so fucking close to explaining it neatly and simply. The book has a prevailing theme of control over biological diversity. The Heartlanders are not allowed to have healthy seeds for planting their own food, so they're dependent on the Empyrean to supply them with crappy stunted vegetables. People who come down with the Blight or other diseases are often taken away to be experimented on or something. So it's a reasonable logical leap that the Obligation exists to a) enforce a steady supply of Heartlanders are born to toil in the fields, and b) ensure genetic diversity to make sure those Heartlanders are as healthy as possible. But that's never said. And so the Obligation falls under the Sorting Hat Doctrine of Dumb YA Plot Devices.

2. The Strong Female Character is almost none of the above. Cael's girlfriend Gwennie is a member of his salvaging crew and exactly the kind of impetuous, witty free spirit every teenage boy would love to be in love with. Except that she's... not? This is one of those times where no matter how much the author tells you something, it remains basically unbelievable because he never actually shows you. The very first scene starts with Cael & Co. on a salvage mission, and for some unexplained reason, Gwennie is the only crew member not in attendance! I guess she needed to get a dress fitted for the Obligation the next day or some shit but WHY? We never, never see Gwennie actually in action as a member of the crew. And for that matter, despite her sharp tongue and teasing ways, she basically serves as the flag in Capture the Flag for the entirety of the book. There's even a scene where she's locked in a room, aware that her friends need her help, and to reinforce the assertion that she's a woman of action and not a wilting violet she violently attacks the door to get out and... fails. That's right. Cael manages to escape when he's locked up, but Gwennie? Nah. I don't like being lied to. And I was told Gwennie was a bad-ass with all evidence basically pointing to the contrary. She doesn't get to do anything except get captured, threatened, and rescued for the whole book.

3. The infectious disease isn't a real threat. The Blight is mentioned as the boogey man of diseases, which will lead to your execution or exile if you're even suspected of being infected. But then Cael & Co. come into contact with a Blighted person, and that person even goes so far as to touch them with his infected body parts, sticks said infected part down Lane's throat (don't worry, it's his hand, not his... yeah), and all of the kids escape infection. So, is it... not actually that contagious? Because suddenly it's not scary at all. Then later on we meet some folks with the Blight who are living fine and dandy lives because they somehow found a secret way of living without. Which is cool and all, but the impact is lost because the real danger of living with the Blight was completely neutered by the earlier scene.

4. They never go back for their precious hover boat. When their boat crashes early in the book, Cael makes a big deal about how they'll have to find someone to tow it back to town within a day or two or the corn will completely encapsulate it. And then... they never do. They don't even worry about it really. They put more effort into fixing up their shitty borrowed replacement boat than fixing the awesome one that crashed. And the whole book I was like "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST GO BACK FOR THE DUMB PIECE OF EQUIPMENT YOU CLAIMED TO CARE SO MUCH ABOUT." I guess what really bothered me here is the inconsistency. Don't set us up for a thing without delivering on it. Don't tell me you have to go back to the island and then make no effort to go back to the island, you know?

Ok, complaints over. All of this is set over a gorgeous allegory--the Heartlanders down in the dirt, the Empyrean floating in the heavens above--and filled with one of the most original and brilliant set pieces I've ever read in YA science fiction: the corn. It moves of its own volition. It's hyper-invasive, to the point that it'll bust right up through concrete if not drowned in pesticides. It's practically carnivorous and covered in sharp leaves that leave fine cuts on your skin if you walk through it. It was so mysterious and creepy that it almost felt like magic. Plus, few things have more creepy contemporary applicability than genetically modified organisms.

Yes, fine, I'll be reading the second one. But I expect Wendig to get his shit together and iron out those dumb inconsistencies. Because this story is far too interesting to torpedo itself due to dumb errors. Plus, in the next one our boys get to visit the flotillas... and that I wanna see.
Profile Image for Dee.
293 reviews
June 19, 2019
A few things have happened since I started reading the first book in Chuck Wendig’s Heartland Trilogy, Under the Empyrean Sky: I find myself looking at corn suspiciously. I started saying "Jeezum Crow!", much to the consternation of colleagues. And I wonder why I never read any of Wendig’s books before. If they are anything like Under the Empyrean Sky, I want to read them all!

The story seems to be set in a dystopian Earth or Earth-like planet where a society divide has left an elite set of the population (the Empyreans) living in the sky on flotillas with advanced technology, better food and medical supplies, and generally much better lives than the larger, less fortunate population (the Heartlanders) that lives on the ground, or Heartland. The Empyreans control nearly every aspect of the Heartlanders lives. The Heartlanders grow crops that only the Empyreans benefit from, and the chemicals used on the crops and genetic modifications done to the crops have left a heavy mark on the Heartlanders.

The characters in this book, the first of the trilogy, were mostly Heartlanders. They are well developed and easy to relate to. The settings are well described and easy to envision. The plot is a real runner – over and over, you hope that something positive will befall our downtrodden heroes and heroines, but things seem to go from bad to worse in a way that skillfully builds to the cliffhanger on which this first book ends.

Of course I am going to purchase the next two books!
Profile Image for Josiah.
825 reviews177 followers
April 16, 2019
Stylistically and in terms of the vibes this setting has, it's kind-of like a cross between a Western and a dystopian novel. Neither are quite accurate (particularly the Western label), but that's what it more-or-less felt like to me. Western isn't my favorite setting, so I had a hard time getting into this book and setting very much (it was also a good bit grittier than I care for in language & style), but it has some pretty descent plot and characters. While it wasn't quite my kind of book, other readers who like this sort of thing should enjoy it.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Good).
Profile Image for Emma Rosloff.
50 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2013
While I’d heard praise for Chuck Wendig’s blog, I hadn’t actually heard much about his book, Under the Empyrean Sky. In fact, it was the cover that drew me in (as superficial as that sounds) as I was browsing through the Young Adult section of the library. Gotta hand it to the artist — it’s a great cover. Really sets the tone. I saw Wendig’s world in all the same colors: yellow, orange and brown.

My favorite thing about this book? The worldbuilding. Wendig paints a vivid picture, creating a world that is both realistic and fantastical. Cael and his ilk are the salt of the Earth, forced to eke out an existence in a land overrun by hostile (dare I say carnivorous) corn. Corn so mutated that it can’t even be eaten, but is instead used to power the giant flotillas that house the Empyrean elite high above.

The book itself takes a little while to get on its feet, but once it does, it’s quite a wild ride. The protagonist (Cael) is never lacking for courage, and his two best buddies (Lane and Rigo) are loyal to the hilt. There’s a lot of humor in Wendig’s narrative, which helps to balance out the harsh realities that inevitably catch up to Cael as the book comes to its climax. I like that this book had real stakes.

All that being said, I had a few issues with it. There were a couple things I found jarring or hard to reconcile.

I’m still planning to read the next one, if only because I loved the worldbuilding and I’m eager to see what life on the flotillas is like. This was quite a neat book if you’re into the YA Dystopian genre, and it’s a quick read. It just comes with a few caveats.
Profile Image for  Simply Sam ツ.
579 reviews78 followers
August 23, 2017
Even though I thought Cael was a selfish, thoughtless little a**hole, even though I honestly really don't care about rescuing Gwennie or Merelda, even though I felt more like a spectator than a participant in the story, it still managed to keep me entertained. I felt the writing was pretty great, interactions between the characters felt believable, the world building was really well done, and I admit, I am more than a little curious about what goes on above the heartland on the empyrean flotillas. A more thorough review may come in the future, but until then I'll just say that this: It was really fun for me and it may be fun for you too.

Profile Image for Reader-ramble.
97 reviews345 followers
August 19, 2013
What did you say? Wendig calls it cornpunk?

(Scratches chin.) I like this. I like this a lot. This is going in a direction I can get behind.

These days, dystopia YA is all the rage. One is born every time someone farts. Only half of them fit the definition of dystopia. (For definition, see my Divergent review.) Most of the ones I read don't make me bat an eye because I'm used to reading ones that have pretty much come true. You know, 1984 as brought to you by the internet, microchips, and the NSA. A true dystopia should make you scared. The nervous kind of scared where you think that it's not true, until you discover it could happen. Then you become a little paranoid.

Now take the 1% from Neill Blomkamp's film Elysium and drag them down into the Earth's atmosphere. Close enough where they can see the huddled masses, but not close enough to actually smell them. Break them up into separate flotillas that I imagine look a lot like Columbia from Bioshock Infinite, only more high tech art deco, and corporatize them. Think of Paolo Bacigalupi's torque run world from "The Calorie Man", "The Yellow Card Man", and The Windup Girl. Set it in middle America. Now hand that all over the Chuck Wendig. What you get is Under the Empyrean Sky.

Seventeen year old Cael McAvoy lives in a small town called Boxelder. He's the leader of The Big Sky Scavengers. He butts heads with his academic father, who he's angry at for being so passive, and wants to find a way out of the rut in life he's destined for. He thinks he's invincible. That's right. He's a teenage boy. A believable teenage boy. He swears, has sex, and drinks underage. No idealized hero here. No pretty boy Four Fears.

I admit that Wendig's characterization skills was what I was looking forward to the most. I read his Atlanta Burns stories, so I knew he could write teenagers, and not these perfect pretty teenagers you see in really popular YA either. Cael's friends are pudgy Rigo and over-the-top Lane.

Rigo hales from an abusive household, but is the tamer of the three. He's usually the one that tries to be the voice of reason until he gets outvoted by the other two. His favorite thing in the world is good food, and his friends have no problem making fun of him for it.

Lane is a bit more on the extreme side. He's more jaded and spouts what could be considered wild conspiracy theories. Sadly, he lives alone and has a tendency to drink a bit much. He constantly suggests that they should run away and join the Sleeping Dogs, a group of bandits. He is also a closeted gay man, but you don't find out about this until you know him as a person.

And then there is Gwennie. She's the brains of the crew. She can fix anything. Gwennie is also the prettiest girl in town. While she fills the roll of Cael's sweetheart, she isn't incapable, but she's more apt to fall in line with the rules of the dystopian society. It's not that she isn't a fighter, she's just more realistic.

The Empyrean run the society. And I mean, run it. They decide where you work, who you marry, and what you grow. Even the monetary system is all theirs. Break the rules, and bad things happen. Most people work in processing plants for the local crop. The local crop, the only thing you're allowed to grow, is Hiram's Golden Prolific. It is literally blood thirsty, as in don't fall asleep among it or it might eat you. It's invasive and you can't eat it. It's used to make everything but food. (Sound familiar?)

Then there is Obligation Day. This is the day where you are paired with your future spouse. A Proctor comes down, hands you a certificate with names, and then leaves. That's it. The Heartlanders try to turn it into a ceremony, but it's really sad when you think about it. (This also adds a bit of a "love triangle" to the book, but is more realistic feeling since it's not The Friend-zoned vs. Incredibly Hot Dude.)

This brings us to the face of our oppressive society, Proctor Agrasanto. (Yes, that is a Monsanto dig, but could you really blame Wendig?) She's just your typical henchman in the long run. She hates her job and views the Heartlanders and uncivilized trash; dirty, disgusting, and not worth her time. While this view point is ultimately her downfall, we'll probably see her again.

As for the writing, it's in Wendig's third person present style. When so many YA dystopias I've read have been written in first, it's a nice change of pace to move between characters. It still moves at a quick pace, but the words and descriptions are cleaner than his adult work. (He wanted to write a book his kid could read.) The paring down of his signature language doesn't take away from his vivid descriptions. Take this little paragraph from early in the novel:

"It's the same dream every nigh. He flies low over the endless corn, the stalks swaying not with the wind but because that's how the corn is: it drifts and shifts and twitches, leaves whispering against leaves, tassels like reaching hands. The sky above is so pale it looks as though someone squeezed the color out of it, like a rag sitting too long in the sun." (p. 8)

It's succinct, uses sensible metaphors, and active verbs. It helps give his style a certain rhythm that runs the reader along.

Despite being the first book of a trilogy, it completes the first plot it introduces involving the mysterious vegetable garden, but leaves enough of a loose thread to continue the series. (Not telling you what. That would be a spoiler.) The story is also contained within the small down and a bit outside it which leaves Wendig the capability to explore the world more.

The book is also relatively short and a quick read. I read it in two days, much to my dismay. I wished it was longer, but that's just me acting like a fan. If Wendig added more, it would ruin the balance of the book. (Again, personal opinion.)

So, to sum it all up, read this book. It's got good characters set in a world with creepy, genetically altered corn and floating cities. Oh, and a male protagonist. How long has it been since you've seen one of those?

Now I'll just go have nightmares about the corn.
Profile Image for Cassi aka Snow White Haggard.
459 reviews155 followers
September 28, 2013
Review is below the PSA. The PSA does not reflect upon the book which is really quite good.

 photo Goodreads_zpsfd34dfc1.jpg

Just when I thought there would never be a good dystopian again Under the Empyrean Sky comes along. This is a solid book - well written, perfectly paced with real life-or-death consequences. While it doesn't do anything groundbreaking with the genre, everything it does it does very well.

The thing about survival, Pop always says, is that it's not about who's fastest or strongest but who can adapt to changing situations.

Under the Empyrean Sky is set in the midwest in the aftermath of a forced agricultural monoculture (something I'm absolutely terrified of). Everybody down on earth is forced to grow an inedible variety of corn that's used for fuel and other products by the overlords living on flotillas in the sky. Golden Prolific is the most aggressive, invasive, scientifically enhances vegetable to ever exist. This kudzu vines on miracle grow times a thousand. (If you don't know about the kudzu vine get googling!).

The book drops you right into the middle of the action with Cael and his crew of scavengers, setting a breakneck pace that carries the novel. The book has a great voice, slightly uneducated with it's own slang but without being full dialect or difficult to read. It's just enough to give it atmosphere.

For me, the main flaw with this book was when it started jumping between characters point of views. The book was over halfway finished before it jumped heads and it was so jarring that I went back and had to re-read that section. I hadn't even realized it was in the 3rd person because it had followed the main character so closely. Suddenly we were in other people's heads and I was confused. I understand how this might become a necessity for the next book but I feel it should've started earlier or followed Cael less closely.

Overall, this book is good. It's been awhile since I've been able to actually say that about a dystopian. It deals with a realistic problem (invasive/monocultural plants), a controlling government, actually has family members who are involved in the story and a whole lot more pluses than minuses. It's nice to see that as a genre dystopian still has something to offer.

I received a free advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.

For this review and more check out my blog Galavanting Girl Books
Profile Image for Dann.
338 reviews8 followers
May 2, 2015
This being my first Chuck Wendig book, I wasn't familiar with his writing style, which some people say takes some getting used to. Even so, the world that he constructed is so engrossing, so interesting, that I couldn't put this book down.

The basis of the story—the haves in the floating cities, the have-nots on the ground—is one that we've seen many timse before, but Wending manages to throw enough imaginative and creative elements into it to make it new and interesting.

Having grown up in the Midwest, surrounded by corn, the idea of a corn-covered land is very relatable to me . . . but the corn itself almost becomes a character in the narrative; its aggressiveness, ubiquitousness, its status as a symbol of Empyrean oppression make it much more meaningful than any corn in any other book that I've read.

The world that this corn is embedded in—really, has helped create—evokes real-world experiences of economic exploitation. While there's no specific corollary that comes to mind, it's easy to read an economic parable behind the flying boats, sonic weapons, and Obligation ceremonies (which are very reminiscent of the Reaping in The Hunger Games).

I hadn't really thought of this as a young adult book, but after seeing a number of people classify it that way, I can see why they did. Especially because of Cael, the protagonist—he's pissed off at the world, doesn't get along with his father, and has to learn a lot of lessons. Gwennie, while she seems to serve as a positive guide in Cael's life, is similarly teenager-ish. Angst and rebellion against parents all around the crew.

The characterization of Gwennie and Wanda is one of the few counts I have against this book; .

All in all, a creative take on an oppressive dystopia, and one that's exciting from start to finish. A great YA science fiction book for all ages.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
725 reviews1,201 followers
July 6, 2015
I’ve been interested in this book for a while because of its major cover appeal and interesting premise, but didn’t expect to like it nearly as much as I did. Under the Empyrean Sky offered a unique voice, immersive world building, and characters who were as vibrant as they were gritty.

The story starts out with a clear perspective and only gets stronger from there. The book was front-loaded with a lot of profanity, which might bother some readers. I actually like profanity in books as long as it does one of two things: provides comic relief or helps developed character. Even though it wasn’t totally apparent from the start, I believe Wendig’s use of language positively added to the great atmosphere, character profiles, and world building of the novel. All of these elements are what left me feeling like the book was a cool experience.

I liked the plot because it surprised me. I thought I could see the predictable trajectory right from the beginning, but was proven wrong at every turn. There’s something oddly compelling about a clearly conveyed story that lacks plot transparency (meaning you always understand what’s going on, but the plot isn’t easy to see through). I give major kudos to Wendig for coming up with so many twists… It was refreshing. My only issue with the entire book was with pacing, as in I wish the story had clipped along a tad faster. Other than that, it was great.

Overall, Under the Empyrean Sky was a cool (albeit weird) book that I enjoyed thoroughly. It gave off a sort of Maze Runner vibe (sort of like the Maize Runner… eh? eh?) but with a lot more sass. I don’t feel the need to pick up the next one right away, but I am definitely interested in seeing where it goes within the next couple of months.
Profile Image for Kaleb.
230 reviews4 followers
December 1, 2014
Actual Rating : 4.5
Chuck Wendig never ceases to amaze me with his elegant prose and well drawn characters. The first book of the Heartland trilogy is a tragic tale of love, inequality, and adventure. This book is better than any YA novel I've ever read and has set the bar for all YA novels. My only gripe for the novel is that the main character, Cael, was kind of an asshole throughout most of the book. A likable asshole thought. Despite that, this was an awesome book and I can't wait to get started on the next one!
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
November 2, 2015
2 Stars

I love Chuck Wendig...

I am a huge fan of most of his works. Under the Empyrean Sky is a jump into the over saturated YA genre that I find myself loathing more and more with every read. It is probably due to my hate of all things "Hunger" like that I disliked this book. I found myself skimming much of this read.

I love Chuck Wendi!!!

Just no love for this book.
Profile Image for Michael Stewart.
Author 16 books260 followers
January 5, 2015
This was fantastic. Second is locked and loaded. Great voice, masterful use of point of view. Wendig's in top form here.
60 reviews9 followers
August 6, 2013
So, I just read this in seven hours.

I wasn't -quite- sure what I was getting into. Chuck Wendig is the guy behind terribleminds.com and the jerk who brought us Changeling: The Lost and Hunter: The Vigil (I LOVE YOU CHUCK - BUT WHY). So I'm very familiar with his -not-storytelling- voice, but was slightly leary going into his -totally-storytelling- voice.

What we have here is a YA story about the evils of mucking about too much in bioengineering plants, the class divide, and The Man telling us what to do. It's not really telling us anything new, but it is for a younger audience.

I enjoyed this book as a happy romp through dystopia and evil corn (totally evil corn, man. o_o; ). Did it enlighten me to the evils of evil corn and draw parallels to our everyday lives? Uh............ I think I'm the wrong audience for this.

What I didn't enjoy about this book was that Chuck Wendig's occasionally happy-stupid love of curse words and stupid sound effects makes it into his fiction. I like -forgetting- about the man behind the curtain, and when characters who are startled make the same text-noises of surprise as "drunk Mr. Wendig" in his blog, well... it's hard to forget who wrote the book.

I was also asked by my bestie shortly after admitting I was reading this, "Hey, isn't there like, actually a gay relationship in this book?"

I perked up. After reading Half Way Home earlier this summer, I kind of need more gay characters in my life.

But no. In this book, there is but one lone gay kid. Who is my favorite from before he came out. Which means he'll probably die, as that is the fate of my favorites. C'est la vie.

On the whole, a fun read as an adult reader. Occasionally kind of "WTF, Chuck. e_e" and even more rarely the "STOP STOP STOP - I'm going to forget you wrote that and give you replacement narration right there."
88 reviews31 followers
June 27, 2013
Under the Empyrean Sky starts like many dystopian novels do, with little information given to the reader. As you read you learn that the book is set in the future Midwest where Empyreans live on floating cities in the sky while forcing the Heartlander to grow corn that has been so genetically modified that it has become an invasive species. Cael is a seventeen year old scavenger and the captain of his own hover ship crew. Him and his friends find long lost or broken down items to sell for the new currency known as ace notes. As a character Cael shows us the frustariton, angst, hardship, and pettiness the Heartlands are forced to bear by the Empyreans. At times Cael isn't very likable, he's very selfish and rash, and I just never really felt very connected to him or the other characters. The majority of the story is from Cael's point of view, so his frustrations really came off the page and at times even made me mad at what was happening. The first two-thirds of the book were very slow moving which I didn't care for, the last third however was so action packed and surprising that I read it very quickly and excitedly. I felt the land of the Heartlanders was almost a character itself. We are never told what state the story is set in as I guess there are no distinctions anymore so I made it Nebraska. Hey, it's corn! The ending is left very open ended and though I didn't like this as much as I have Wendig's other work, I will most likely read the next in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Phil.
172 reviews5 followers
August 6, 2013
This is my first YA book, and any fans of Chuck Wendig who might be dubious of picking it up because of the YA tag, stop worrying. The YA tag does not diminish Chuck's style, everything you have come to expect is there. The grim reality, the sharp descriptions, the strong characters that fit and all add to the flow.

This is the first in a trilogy set in a Cornpunk future where the land is covered by an invasive strain of carnivorous corn. The Heartland is a grim and foreboding place, its people match the setting. Life is harsh, and offtimes short, the Heartlanders lot is not good. But young Cael McAvoy - Captain of a scavenger crew - has dreams of a better life, a life away from the corn, and away from the oppressive rule of the Empyrean's in their skybound flotillas.

With Cael, and his friends Lane and Rigo, Chuck has once again created young characters that have a wealth of life experience, and who don't take no crap from anyone. If you are looking for a quick read then this is for you, the pace is fast, the action brutal.
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