Aurora Rising: A snarky space thriller

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

A lot of YA fantasy and science fiction works follow teenager characters as they attend magic or spaceflight school (I would take either!), but not nearly as many follow the characters’ lives after graduation. Aurora Rising (2019), a new YA space adventure from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the authors of the well-regarded ILLUMINAE FILES trilogy, take the latter approach, following a diverse cast of older teens as they graduate from Aurora Academy in the year 2380, are divided into crews of six according to their specialties, and assigned their initial mission for the Aurora Legion.

Tyler Jones, age 18, is at the top of the senior class. A natural leader and stellar student, he’s earned the right to four of the top five picks in the next day’s Draft, where the “Alphas” or team leaders pick the five graduating students, each with a different specialty, who will be their crew. But Tyler can’t sleep the night before the Draft, so he takes off on a solo space flight into the Fold, the weird interdimensional part of space that allows interstellar space travel. Tyler’s about to head back to Aurora when he receives an SOS call from a legendary space ship, the Hadfield, which was lost over 200 years ago.

Tyler (barely) manages to rescue the single survivor of the Hadfield, a cryogenically frozen girl named Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. (Luckily she goes by Auri, sparing us from an overdose of Auroras.) But rescuing Auri takes too long and Tyler misses the all-important Draft. So his new crew is the rejects and misfits of the graduating class … except not all. Tyler’s twin sister Scarlett (a diplomat) and their lifelong friend Cat (an ace pilot), who were able to hold out from being drafted by other Alphas so they could be on Tyler’s crew, excel at their specialties. Joining them are Zila, a dark brown-skinned sociopathic scientist; Finian, their resentful alien tech who wears an exosuit to compensate for his physical disabilities; and Kal, their alien combat specialist who has a genetic predisposition to violent anger.

Tyler’s crew, Squad 312, takes off on their first mission, but their routine supply run quickly turns odd when they discover Auri stowed away on their Longbow spaceship, and then dangerous as the mission goes south and deadly forces close in. Soon Squad 312 is on the run from their enemies while trying to solve an ancient mystery that may have galactic consequences.

Aurora Rising is a fast-paced space opera adventure, overflowing with thrills and chills, and spiced up with romantic tensions between the various crew members and lots of snarky dialogue.

Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman

“But I do know you and I swore an oath when we joined the Legion. To help the helpless. To defend the defenseless. And even though the ―”

 

“Um, sir?” Finian de Seel says. “We might have a problem.”

 

“You mean aside from you interrupting my speech?” Tyler Jones asks. “Because I’d been practicing it in my head for an hour and it was gonna be great.”

There are fun if slightly juvenile details that help make the story more memorable for readers, like the color coding for the various specialties at Aurora Academy, the decorative and informative sidebars that bolster the worldbuilding, and the sarcastic voice of Auri’s “uniglass” (a handheld computer device):

“I’m top-of-the-line, new-gen uniglass technology, available nowhere outside the academy,” it shoots back. “I’m seventeen times smarter than him. And three times better-looking.”

Jay Kristoff

Tyler’s crew is divided equally between men and women and includes some sexual diversity (one of the crew is bisexual) as well as racial diversity … not to mention a couple of aliens. The constant shift in point of view with each chapter can get a little dizzying; all seven of the crew members (including stowaway Auri) have multiple chapters from their POVs. Some of the characters are more memorable than others, but a few weeks after reading this I still clearly remember most of the crew members, a tribute to Kaufman and Kristoff’s success in creating distinct characters.

It’s convenient that the half of Tyler’s crew who were considered “the dregs” of their class doesn’t actually include anyone stupid or incompetent. They’re social outcasts with significant personality issues (which has the side benefit of adding interest to the story), but they’re all bright and talented at their specialties. Also suspiciously convenient is the fact that spaceship crews need to be under age 25 to withstand the mental pressures of entering the Fold, but at least there’s a plausible reason given for these youthful crews.

The basic plot elements of Aurora Rising ― a mismatched company of strangers trying to overcome their differences and become unified, an improbable heist (complete with a MacGuffin), and a journey to a destination that turns out to be far more perilous than expected ― will be familiar to anyone who reads a lot of sci-fi, but Kaufman and Kristoff sucked me right in and I couldn’t put this book down. Aurora Rising is a fun, quick read if you like your YA SF with lots of snarky banter. It’s almost guaranteed to appeal older teenagers who enjoy science fiction. It’s the first book in the new AURORA CYCLE series (thankfully its ending doesn’t leave you with TOO much of a cliffhanger). I’m definitely on board for the next book!

Published in May 2019. From the New York Times and internationally bestselling authors of the Illuminae Files comes a new science fiction epic . . . 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 tech whiz 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.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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