By: Beth Revis
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Amy has left the life she loves for a world 300 years away Trapped in space and frozen in time, Amy is bound for a new planet. But fifty years before she’s due to arrive, she is violently woken, the victim of an attempted murder. Now Amy’s lost on board and nothing makes sense – she’s never felt so alone. Yet someone is waiting for her. He wants to protect her; and more if she’ll let him. But who can she trust amidst the secrets and lies? A killer is out there – and Amy has nowhere to hide…
If ever there was a book that surprised the hell out of me, it’s this one. In the middle of a book-buying binge last year I bought this entire trilogy, along with the companion novel THE BODY ELECTRIC (which is actually a signed limited edition which came with a little pack full of postcards with art based on the books, bookmarks, and a few other little goodies). Over the year, I almost constantly planned to read this book next, but never did, until about two weeks ago when I was looking at the artwork from the pack I got with THE BODY ELECTRIC, and decided there and then to start reading ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Within a few hours, I’d read 118 pages in one sitting, and was completely hooked on the story and the concept.
Apparently you should never judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard not to look at the insanely beautiful cover and assume that it’s going to be some sort of sci-fi romance story. I don’t particularly have a problem with romance, but it’s just not the kind of genre that I gravitate towards, so when I began reading, I prepared myself for the romance. I know that the covers for this series changed with every instalment that came out, and I was always kind of annoyed about that, but now that I’ve read the first book I can see that–although a terrific cover–the cover for this book isn’t really representative of the story. There isn’t a huge emphasis put on the romance, which is present in a small way. The story is much deeper, concerning itself more with contemporary ideas of social problems, as well as wonder, awe, friendship, and just a really gripping murder-mystery.
Really, this book is genuinely one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It had me completely absorbed from the very first page to the very last, and more than ready to read the second in the series, A MILLION SUNS. I know that ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is a couple of years old now, so you’ve more than likely heard about it, and maybe even read it, but if you haven’t picked it up yet, I recommend you do.
Seriously, folks, what a thrilling ride this book was.
From Amy being cryogenically frozen at the beginning, this book was almost the definition of a page-turner. I was on the edge of my seat (except I read most of this lying down, so just go with the saying even though it’s not true) reading the chapters from Amy’s POV when she can’t figure out if she’s dreaming or awake when she’s in her frozen state, when she can’t tell if she’s been conscious for a few minutes, or a hundred years, when she doesn’t even know if she’s left Earth yet. Those chapters were honestly some of the best in the entire book, and this book is full of brilliant chapters. They were gripping, and genuinely frightening at points.
On the other side, the beginning chapters from Elder’s POV had me slump back into my seat (again, I was lying down, let’s just pretend I was in a chair) and made me really think. These chapters open the reader up to Godspeed–the ship that the story takes place on–and get us familiar with everything about it, from the layout to the way that it’s run. For the shortest time, I was a bit confused by the whole Elder/Eldest thing, but in short; Eldest is in charge of the ship, and he is training Elder to become the Eldest and run the ship one day. His lessons are harsh, but deeply thought-provoking, especially because they continually raise the opinion that the number one cause of discourse is difference. Everyone on Godspeed looks the same; they have the same skin colour, the same hair colour, and generally all think the same. It’s honestly not very often that a book makes me think as much as this book did, and I’m so happy with it.
On a more structure related note, I loved the dual narrative between Amy and Elder, as they both have their very distinct ways of narrating, and different views on their situation; Elder is completely familiar with everything to do with the ship and how it is run, while Amy sees everything was awe, wonder, and almost crippling fear. Together, the way that they narrate their experiences forms such a vivid picture of the entire ship and its happenings.
The character in this book. Dude. THE CHARACTERS. There wasn’t one character in this book who I didn’t feel was a fully realised and developed character. Amy was one of the most likeable characters I’ve read in a while, it’s hard not to feel so much sympathy for her as we see her struggle to cope with her life when she realises that she will have to wait 50 years to see her parents again. And it’s easy to feel sympathetic for Elder in the fact that we see how cruelly he is treated by Eldest, but he still tries to learn everything that he can, beginning to understand what it really means to be a leader. At the end, it is the moment of hesitation before he tries to destroy the water pump that is feeding Phydus into the water supply–the drug that is removing individual thought from the Feeders–that really strikes home the nature of his character; he wants to care for everyone and believes that giving them their individual thought back is the best way to do that, but he also realises that maybe keeping them in their ‘Feeder’ state may be for the best of the whole society. On the other hand, Eldest and the Doc are two characters who are perfectly dislikable. They are written so well, and they have such strikingly parts in the story, that they are such strong characters in themselves.
Harley though. He was probably my favourite character in the novel, purely for the way that he sees everything. We learn through the book that he is one of the only people on the ship still in possession of his individual thought, and that’s because they need artists on the ship. It was really quite beautiful to read about his adoration and awe as he saw the stars for the first time, and then so heartbreaking to read his tragic suicide towards the end. I don’t think that my mental image of the painting that Harvey made will leave my mind any time soon.
In the end, the story of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was fantastic. I don’t think I can say that I’ve ever read a YA Sci-Fi Murder Mystery before this. And the book is littered with some incredible plot twists. If you know me, you know that I’m constantly trying to predict what will happen in a book based on specific actions, but you’ll know that I love being surprised. This book had some parts that I predicted correctly (such as the fact that the murderer was the Elder that was supposedly dead), but twists that I would never have seen coming (such as that the Elder that was supposedly dead was actually Orion). The scene when Eldest reveals that the ship is actually 250 years behind schedule and that the entire population is regularly convinced that they are only 25 years behind schedule was such a massive twist too, as was the reveal that Elder is actually just a clone of Eldest. Too many plot twists can sometimes spoil a book, but the twists that Beth Revis included in this book done nothing but add to the excitement and wonder of it.
It’s not often that a book grabs hold of me like this one did. The entire time I was reading it, I was really thinking about it. I became so invested in the story and the characters, and the writing was so fantastic, painting such a detailed verbal image of the ship, that I honestly felt that I was there a lot of the time. That’s a pretty cliché thing to say, but, man, it’s true. I lost myself in this book, lost myself more than I’ve lost myself in any book in the last few years. The plot was fantastic, the writing was incredible, and the characters were phenomenal. Throughout the book there is an incredible consideration of so many different things; leadership, loyalty, hope, friendship, and the value of individual thought. I honestly can’t wait to read A MILLION SUNS and SHADES OF EARTH. If this book is anything to go by, I’m sure I’m going to love both of them.