A Million Suns (Across The Universe #2)
If you’ve read Across the Universe, you’ll be familiar with its intense and chilling first chapter – a powerful piece of writing that opened this YA sci-fi trilogy with a bang. While I enjoyed Across the Universe, for me, that claustrophobic induction into Amy’s point of view was its highest point. That said, I wanted to see where Revis was going to take the story next. Having left her characters and the Godspeed in something of a lurch, and with some glaring questions to be addressed, I was invested enough to pick up A Million Suns for the answers.And answer she does. A couple of issues are addressed immediately, within the first chapter. It’s not quite as compelling as the opening of Across the Universe – Revis takes a more subtle approach this time around – but she effectively sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Tense, unsettling and ominous.
Amy and Elder are beset by problems. Elder’s position as leader of Godspeed’s now Phydus-free population is precarious. The truth about Godspeed’s engine is revealed. Amy is trying to process being assaulted, her extremely conflicted feelings toward Elder (given his admission of responsibility for her unfreezing) and the prejudice levelled against her by the ship-born residents. Amid all this – mysterious clues have been left for Amy to follow, and a decision with life-altering consequences hangs in the balance.
Revis writes good old fashioned, Professor Plum in the conservatory with the lead-pipe type mystery, and the hunt for and solving of clues is one of the main driving forces of the plot. Occasionally I found Amy seemed to work things out a little too quickly and conveniently, eliminate the red herrings a little too easily. I also saw one of the major twists coming some time before its big reveal. That said, the mystery plotline works well – and I enjoyed the fact that Amy has agency and motivation as a character in her own right, independent of the minor romantic subplot.
While I’m on the subject of romance; Revis uses restraint here and it really works. If I’m not 100% on board with the manner in which Amy’s feelings eventually crystallised (not saying which way, mind you), I appreciated the realistic issues that complicated her thought process and impeded the exploration of their feelings. There’s also an interesting discussion about choice, which makes a refreshing change from the smorgasbord of “unexplainab-Ana @ SoManyBooksSoLittleTimele compulsion” YA romances. I wouldn’t say that chemistry is Revis’ strongest point as a writer (or at least, it hasn’t been so yet), as the “romantic” moments can feel somewhat forced and wooden.
However, in A Million Suns, I did feel that Amy and Elder really came into their own individually as developed, complex characters. I sympathised with them more throughout this novel, and felt I knew them better as fully realised characters. This is the novel in which both must confront their personal demons and make choices of profound moral and ethical significance. By throwing these teenagers into such complicated scenarios, with both personal and ship-wide ramifications, Revis highlights their respective strengths and weaknesses, and the emotional effects of shouldering such great responsibility. This is particularly true in Elder’s case – by placing his assumed role of leadership up against the reignited free-will of the population – she creates a compelling conflict that highlights his characterisation and, ultimately, his growth.
This social and political unrest was, in my opinion, the most engaging aspect of A Million Suns. Revis doesn’t shy away from posing difficult questions, and by doing this, she creates an atmosphere of extreme tension in an already claustrophobia-inducing setting. While not precisely a Marie Antoinette-esque, “Let them eat cake”-style propaganda-skewering, Elder’s decisions and position are the subject of much discord and discussion. And Revis is not black and white about the situation. Rather, she presents a range of valid arguments and opinions. The disorder is not only compelling, it’s understandable and thought-provoking.
This is a solid instalment in the trilogy that avoids middle book sag. The plot here feels vital (even if the mystery formula is not exactly fresh) as opposed to filler. I feel it’s a stronger book than its predecessor (apart from that spectacular opening scene of Across of the Universe, perhaps) and effectively ups the ante for Shades of Earth.