I just finished reading Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, and my first reaction was somewhere between “Meh” and “Wow!”. I originally added it to my TBR list because it had an absolutely gorgeous cover, it would fit in with the 2012 Science Fiction Experiment over at Stainless Steel Droppings, and because the reviews of it are all over the map. Yes, I specifically picked up this book because the reviews don’t agree. It’s not just a love it/hate it thing either, this one has opinions all across the spectrum, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I mean, look at that cover art people, really!
The premise of the story is the relationship between Kieran and Waverly. They’re the two eldest children of their generation aboard the colony ship Empyrean. Ahead of their ship by a year, or so they think, is the New Horizon, led by overly religious crazy person Anne Mather, the primary antagonist of the novel. When the Empyrean and it’s crew somehow meet up with New Horizon in the middle of a nebula hijinks ensue, and a significant portion of Empyrean’s crew, including all the girls, are captured and taken aboard New Horizon. The adult crew left aboard Empyrean is incapacitated or dead, so Kieran ends up fighting for the command that was always intended to be his, while Waverly is stuck aboard New Horizon fighting for her freedom.
Overall it’s an innovative story idea with a number of elements, that when combined, could have created something dramatic and compelling. For the most part I think they all did. First off, Ryan’s amazing talent with characterization; she whips your loyalties back and forth between characters masterfully. I’m not 100% sold on Waverly, but I can sympathize with her plight. It’s the secondary characters that almost seem more alive, and there are a number of them who I found myself rooting for and then against within the space of a few pages.
I had read several recent reviews that indicated the plot would be slow going for the first half and then pick up, which I definitely found to be true. Additionally, I liked the interplay of freedom vs. oppression as a theme. Issues surrounding pregnancy and freedom of choice as well as violence within faith were raised. I appreciated how these issues were tackled within what is ostensibly a YA novel, as well as how open-minded I felt that that author remained. The only thing YA about this book, in my opinion, was the teenage main characters. One could easily insert twenty-somethings into the roles of Kieran and Waverly and get the same result, except that it would be sold as adult sci-fi rather than YA.
This was, I hate to even say it, another gosh darn cliffhanger of an ending, but thankfully was not done in such a way that I feel cornered into buying the next books. Ryan did a good job of tying off the major plot lines so that I could walk away right now not knowing everything, but being satisfied that I know enough.
TL/DR: I didn’t love Glow, but it was a satisfying read, and I’m looking forward to the sequels to discover both how the story resolves and how the author evolves.