A Million Suns, Beth Revis (Razorbill, 2012 {Penguin Audio, Narrators: Tara Carrozza and Lucas Salvagno})

Grade: Δˡ  — A very good read, but only if you like the genre (or subgenre).[1]

In brief:

A Million Suns is the second in the Across the Universe series (serial) by Beth Revis.  It is an enjoyable, well thought out book for anyone and will appeal to anyone who likes Science Fiction, though those who like Romance will like it more.  It can be read without having opened the first in the series, but will spoil that one if you want to pick it up.

Setting:

Godspeed: a generation ship with cryogenic suspension units travelling at sublight speeds to colonize a world know as Centuri Earth.  

In Depth:[2]

A Million Suns is the second in the Across the Universe series (serial) by Beth Revis.  It is an enjoyable, well thought out book that will likely appeal to anyone who likes YA Science Fiction, though those who also like Romance will like it more. 

A Million Suns is the story of two teens on a generation ship that has some very serious problems.  Interestingly, while it is book two in a serial series, I was able to pick it up and follow the storyline with very little problem.  To that end, while I now regret having not read the first book (I will go back and do so), I didn’t feel lost in the story because it.  This is an EXTREMELY hard thing to do, so hat’s off to Beth Revis for having written a serial that you can pick up in the middle!  I’m officially impressed.

The story is told as a series of twined chapters (Elder and Amy), each from the first person perspective of one of the two main characters:

Amy is a teenage girl from America of the near future who was put in cryogenic suspension with her parents (pretty much against her choice) so that they could go and colonize a new world together.  Unfortunately, at the beginning of the last book, she was woken up prematurely to find that the mission had gone astray and the generations of shipboard personnel had undergone considerable culture shift over the subsequent years.  Now she finds herself the subject of blatant bigotry and suspicion. 

Elder is the only other teenager of an approximate age to Amy, but is also effectively the Commander of the ship and leader of the latest generations of crew members (most if not all of whom are older than he is) left awake to man the ship (and breed in order to do so) as Godspeed makes its way to Centuri Earth.  He is the genetically modified clone of previous Captains (Eldest) of the ship Godspeed, and as such was forced to take over in his role of CO when the previous Eldest was killed in the previous book. Together with Amy, it is Elder’s job to discover exactly what is going on with the ship while trying to manage the growing disquiet among the other members of the generation crew.

In this set up, Revis has created three very effective story arcs: what is wrong with the ship, the growing social unrest among the crew, and the potential romance between Elder and Amy. Each story arc is in-and-to-itself interesting,[3] but for me, at least, the last storyline got a bit old by the middle of the book. Sadly, that decreased the tension of the rest of the book as a whole.

One key element of the romance that didn’t quite work for me was the Will-They-Won’t-They romantic intrigue.  This is a very difficult thing to pull off throughout a whole book in any situation, but especially so if the chapter structure switches us in and out of both character’s first person point-of-view throughout the story.  Revis ALMOST pulls it off, but in the end, the almost-getting-together-and-then-some-problem-with-the-nature-of-their-relationship revisits is used just a little too much.  Revis had me involved in their relationship problems early on, but there were enough problems facing both of the main characters throughout the tale that the “every-few-chapter relationship problem” button seemed a bit contrived after a while.  It ended up becoming a classic case of adding elements to a story to keep it classified in a certain way, or “Excuse me, but your sub-genre is showing.”  Having said that, the Romance element of the story was key, central and almost worked.  In fact, I’d say it did work better than I’ve ever been able to pull off such a thing as a writer, so take that as you will.

As for the central mystery of the book, well I will admit to having guessed what was going on right from the get-go, but then again I am a Science Fiction and Mystery author who has read more than a few books about generation ships, so I do have a bit of an unfair advantage.  Even so, I very much liked the way interplay between the social upheaval being felt across the ship and the way that played into the overall dilemma that the ship was in.  Further more, I found the way the story unfolded to be interesting, the use of twinned POV switch chapters very well done, and particularly the lack of any VILLAINS[4] to be highly enjoyable.  Additionally, the final reveal of the ship problem was well done.

So, having said all that, I did actually enjoy this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good YA Science Fiction tale: particularly if they like Romance as well.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Penguin Audio did a very good job of producing this audiobook.  The use of two narrators, one for each character POV was very well done, and avoided an issue I recently saw with an interactive ebook I was recently reading to my son.[5] 

Lucas Salvagno did a particularly good job in the role of Elder, providing an uber-calm, ever-so-slightly monotoned narration that seemed appropriate to a young man who grew up in a highly controlled social environment where every aspect of one’s life is governed by an Orwellian style command structure.  That is not to say that he didn’t show emotion, quite the contrary.  It’s just that he displayed his moods and emotions subtly, playing them very well against his otherwise calm and calming style.

Tara Carrozza also did a solid job, though she did have a tendency to over-emphasize elements of her reading a bit too much for my liking. For example, the first sentence of her first section reads:

    “Drop of water splashes against the metal floor.”

She read it as:

    “Drop of water splashes against the metal floor.” 

There really was no need for the emphasis, nor do they really make sense.  The images and words of the author stood out for themselves. 

Having said that, within a few sentences Ms. Carrozza portrays the sense that Amy is an American from a future that is effectively the same as our own present day society. 

One other element I noted about the Audiobook was the lack of any map provided.  While the text of the author actually is solid enough that I more or less know what the Godspeed’s layout looks like without one (and without an info-dump), I would have found a ship map (like the one downloaded above) quite fun. 


[1] Before I get into the meat of this review, let me clarify something about my “Grading” system.  While there is a strong element of subjective ranking held within it, it mostly avoids the use of Ranking (like the normally used 1 to 5 star system) and focuses more on whether people would enjoy the book depending on how much they enjoy the genre.  Thus there are some books that I think people would love regardless of the genre they read (Alpha), some that people would love unless they really dislike the genre (Beta), some that people would likely love if they like the genre, and might enjoy even if they don’t (Gamma), and some that people would only enjoy if they like the genre (Delta), etc. (see How The Grading Works for more detail). 

Yes, there are some Grades that pan books (Epsilon and the dread and rarely used Zeta grades), but for the most part, I try to avoid subjective rating and instead use a subjective suggestion that would guide people based on the kinds of books they enjoy.  To that end, a Delta Prime rating for this book should be interpreted like it says on the Tin: I liked this book, it wasn’t a favorite, but I read it and feel happy for having done so at the end.  HOWEVER, if you don’t like the sub-genre, I really don’t think you’ll enjoy this book all that much. 

SOOOOOO… if you like Science Fiction, this book is worth a try, if you like Science Fiction Romance I’d definitely pick it up, and if you like YA Science Fiction buy it now.

[2] Warning: this review contains mild spoilers of the FIRST book in the series (none for this book).  I apologize for this, but there was no way to discuss the plot of this, the second book in the serial without talking about the situation in this book. 

[3] Albeit the first and most interesting (something is wrong with the ship) is an archetype of the generation ship setting.

[4] By VILLAIN I mean moustache twirling evil men/women/things who have some nefarious plan.  This is opposed to characters who have some comprehensible (even if fundamentally twisted) reason to do the evil or just dab things that they do.  e.g. A James Bond villain versus Hannibal Lechter. Hannibal is a horrible horrible man, but one can understand the twisted logic and desires that turn him to cannibalism.  James Bond Villains who want to RULE THE WORLD are too caricature.

[5] The Night Before Christmas is written from the First Person Perspective of a man, so why have a woman narrate it?

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Ripping Yarn, Romance, Science Fiction, Serial, Series, Space Exploration, Trilogy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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