Asrian Skies By Anne Wheeler (4 stars)
(Shadows of War Book 1)
If you like clean, character-driven, female protagonist Sci-Fi, you will enjoy this!
Wheeler has done an amazing job throwing in twists and betrayals like no other. She is a master of interrogation sessions and politics. A perfect blend of easy-to-read sentences with somewhat advanced language makes this a comfortable read. Her scene-setting and world-building are fantastic and mixed into the storyline in ideally sized chunks. Her characters stand out as quite unique from one another.
The action and suspense are well-proportioned to keep the pages turning. There is something magical about the way Wheeler weaves interpersonal details into the main character’s storyline. Some components are predictable, others are wildly not, which makes for an ideal mind game for the reader.
Readers that prefer clean books, both spiritual and not, would like this. A character-driven story, Asrian Skies delves into the life of Avery Rendron in the beginning and doesn’t slow down until the major action begins about half-way through. Though mild skirmishes dot the initial first half and propel our reading, the midpoint is a major inflection, and the action takes off. While there is mild violence, there is no cursing and no intimacy. Respect and honor are underlying themes which Wheeler has filtered in through her character’s actions and dialogue.
Summary: (Spoiler Alert)
Avery Rendron is a lieutenant for the Commonwealth on Ventana and a princess on her home planet of Asria. After a space-flight training mission goes awry, Rendron finds herself being summoned home and her status as an officer revoked. Her uncle has fled to an enemy planet, and her brother is a deserter. Rendron doesn’t want the life of a royal either: its expectations, rules, or the emphasis on faith.
Returning home does provide an opportunity to see her former love-interest, Merritt Parker. But his job as senior aid to General Teruel, and his connection to the military, take priority—though not in his heart.
An invasion by the enemy, the Haederans, catches Asria off guard. Asria prefers its isolation despite its allegiance to the Commonwealth. Their technology is advanced, yet they cannot understand how the Haederan ships evaded their scanners.
Governor Perrin and his Haederan army take control of Asria like they have many planets, but with mildly less aggression. They attempt to manipulate Rendron into working with them so as to make her people willingly surrender to Haederan rule. But Rendron is too stubborn.
Rendron finds herself working in the shadows for Hadley and Feye, two off-worlders seeming to want to help. Because they are skilled in military maneuvers beyond her grasp, she accepts her role and begins recon to gain any information she can to assist the few rebels in finding a weakness in the Haederan forces.
Escaping with the information she uncovers is a tricky skill Rendron repeatedly fails to acquire until the Haederans grow weary of her disobedience and lock her away.
Beaten and torn inside, Rendron begins to find her faith again. Hadley infiltrates the Haederan guards and manages to steal Rendron in a Nightflier, and they head out on their quest to find a data chip she sent out with her most trusted personal guard just before being imprisoned. But betrayal soon catches up with her, and Rendron ends up walking right back into enemy-occupied territory.
The Haederans have acquired the chip and, with no other use for her, put her on a transport to a ship in orbit. Destined for Haedera, Rendron grows restless for an escape and steals a Haederan fighter. In a daring move, she flies out of the mothership and fakes out the fighters that follow. Bolting out into space, she loses consciousness and blacks out.
Rendron is picked up by a Commonwealth scout ship, the only one close enough to help though not big enough to fight the Haederan fleet beyond. She explains what she’s learned, but they already know everything. Yet having a Haederan ship with a functioning stealth cloak is the key turning point, providing a functioning example of how the Haederans have evaded their scanners and therefore a way to gain equality on the battlefield.
As our main character comes to be the last remaining member of the royal family, she assumes the duties of Queen of Asria. She will no longer fly as an officer and knows this as her duty. Taking charge of the hand she is dealt, Rendron decides she must return home, to Asria.
We are left with the notion that Rendron has put aside her personal dreams so she may do what is best for her people. She no longer wishes to avoid Asria, but return to it, despite its Haederan occupation and rule. Rendron now fights for something greater than herself.
Hadley was by far my favorite character. He’s an intense, hard man, with (I think) a secret soft side to him. His actions and expressions stand out the most in my mind. He felt the most real of the characters to me because he was steady in his convictions and duty.
I tend to be an impatient reader, more concerned with fast-moving works with lots of tech, weapons, and action. But I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was a nice change of pace and allowed me to slow down and take in the scenery.
Something that stuck out to me was when Rendron thinks about how often she brags of her mother’s gardens while proceeding to pick all of the petals off of a flower—in effect, killing it. In retrospect, I see that moment now as foreshadowing (because her mother dies), but at the time I felt confused. How could Rendron love her mother while destroying something her mother worked hard to grow? Either way, it seems like an interesting symbolic reference at the end. These are the details that made me stop and really think about the story. If a book can make us pause and play with the characters in our own minds, I call that a good read!
If you like this book, Unbroken Fire is book 2 in the Shadows of War series. Find it on Amazon here.