One of the reasons (okay, maybe the main reason) I read YA is because it caters to my short attention span. Yes, there are YA novels that are burdened by extensive navel gazing, exposition that reads like a history textbook, and/or overly detailed description that could be used to file an insurance claim. But, for the most part, YA seems to recognize that its audience just wants to get on with the storytelling.
With very little preamble, Under the Never Sky
gets to the heart of the matter. Aria and a small group of "friends" venture out into an abandoned section of Reverie, the pseudo-utopian haven-within-a-dystopian wasteland where she lives. Aria, not by nature a thrill seeker, is only there to get some alone-time with a boy named Soren. Nope. She doesn't have a crush on the lad, but rather hopes that Soren, son of an official in Reverie, might know something about the disappearance of her mother.
Unfortunately, Soren and his two buddies are what happens when you mix "teenage" with "testosterone." Not only is Soren unwilling to help Aria, but he and his pals set a fire that spirals out of control. And when Aria and her friend Paisley try to escape, Soren attacks Aria.
She is rescued, briefly, by Perry, a Savage from outside Reverie, who beats the crap out of Soren.
When Aria awakens in the hospital, she learns that Paisley is dead, and Soren is recovering from a broken jaw. She is also missing her SmartEye, her link to the virtual world of the Realms, and coincidentally, where she's stored a recording of Soren's arson and assault on her.
Not surprisingly, Aria is blamed for the whole disaster and dumped in wasteland to die. Which is where she encounters Perry again.
Perry, the best part of the novel, is the younger brother of his tribe's Blood Lord. Perry's wish is to be Blood Lord, and the only thing keeping him from challenging his brother to a fight (possibly to the death) is his love for Talon, Perry's young son. Complicating matters is the fact that Talon is dying.
Perry was nosing around the fringes of Reverie in search of a cure for Talon's illness, a fact that he'd like to keep secret from his brother since interaction with Dwellers is forbidden. Unfortunately, the truth comes out because Perry picked up Aria's SmartEye and Reverie sends a small force out to retrieve it. In the process, Talon is kidnapped.
When Perry finds Aria wandering around the wasteland during an Aether storm, he rescues her -- again -- but only because he thinks she's his ticket into Reverie and to getting back Talon.
A reluctant partnership is formed, friendship and love happens.
Even though Aria probably changes the most over the course of the story, Perry is the most compelling. As the almost-alpha, beta to his brother's alpha, Perry is no pushover. He can fight; he's killed people before and kills more over the course of the story. He's a good hunter, in part because of his enhanced sense of smell, one of a few beneficial mutations present in the so-called Savage populations.
But he's also is a nurturer, grudging but effectively caring for the fish-out-of water Aria, and serving as father-figure to Talon and Cinder, another young boy that he and Aria encounter on the journey.
Introducing a kid into any story always has the potential to reek of contrivance, but it works here, with Perry having a genuine rapport with the young boys.
Aria, a young woman who has lived her life in the virtual reality world of the Realms, has never even seen real rocks before, is utterly out of her element. I like that the story takes its time showing her adjusting to the real world, but doesn't drag it on too long, or make her into a screaming, helpless ninny. Faced with the reality of survival in this not-hermetically sealed, unsafe world, Aria buckles down and survives.
The romantic side of Perry and Aria's relationship is allowed to build slowly, without any insta-lust, and probably tempered by the culture gap between the two characters. The result is a sense that these two, despite being really young, have something besides hormones on which to build a long-term relationship.
World building is functional although the primary environmental antagonist, the Aether, isn't explained very well (erm, at all). My impression is that it's some sort of radiation, probably what drove people into places like Reverie in the first place, but its origins remain ambiguous.
One logical flaw really bugged me. Aria and Perry's destination is another island of civilization in the wasteland (I can't remember the name of the place). This lovely little village has nearly all the technologies of Aria's home, including medicine. So....why didn't Perry or his brother just bring Talon (or for that matter Talon's mother who died of the same illness) to this place to be treated? Obviously Perry's been here many times before.
Not a keeper, but nevertheless, a fast-paced read with an alpha hero who is also a nurturer.