Magonia takes to the skies once more with the second novel of the duology. Let’s look to the skies with Aerie, by Maria Dahvana Headley.
Where is home when you were born in the stars?
Aza Ray is back on earth. Her boyfriend Jason is overjoyed. Her family is healed. She’s living a normal life, or as normal as it can be if you’ve spent the past year dying, waking up on a sky ship, and discovering that your song can change the world.
As in, not normal. Part of Aza still yearns for the clouds, no matter how much she loves the people on the ground.
When Jason’s paranoia over Aza’s safety causes him to make a terrible mistake, Aza finds herself a fugitive in Magonia, tasked with opposing her radical, bloodthirsty, recently-escaped mother, Zal Quel, and her singing partner, Dai. She must travel to the edge of the world in search of a legendary weapon, the Flock, in a journey through fire and identity that will transform her forever.
There is one aspect in which Aerie has my respect: early on, it establishes that Aza Ray and Jason have had sex. Practically every young adult book I read features a male and female protagonist with at least an implied romantic relationship between them – but within the story, the most that ever happens is possibly some kissing. If the relationship ever progresses further, we’re to assume that it happens after the end of the story, safely off-page. Are authors desperate to maintain a PG rating? Afraid of being accused of promoting teen promiscuity? Or do they just want to keep dragging out their love triangles on and on and on, and so put off the final hook-up until the end of the series? I don’t know. I just know that some book series I’ve read feel like they’re lacking something because of the way they limit their protagonists’ romantic development.
Now, obviously I’m not saying that every story with romance needs to shoehorn in an explicit sex scene. But the point at which a romance advances to the sexual level is an important step in a relationship and can provide huge potential for character development, even if all the hot and steamy parts take place between chapter breaks; and flat-out forbidding any mention of even the possibility of sex between characters can curtail the natural path of the story. A great example of sexuality done right in a young adult work is the anime Infinite Ryvius, where Kouji and Aoi ave sex for the first time between episodes 21 and 22. It takes place entirely off-screen, not a single frame of nudity shown; yet even without showing it or discussing it or lingering on it in any way, it manages to be a highly important story event, marking critical turning point in Kouji’s character development. And so I have to admire authors with the courage to write young adult series where the characters have sex or at least consider the possibility of their relationships becoming sexual. The Fearless series by Francine Pascal, for instance, which I would never actually recommend, I will at least give a small amount of credit for daring to have one of the heroine’s romantic relationships progress to the point she has sex.
So there it is: the one thing I like and admire about Aerie. Now, time to set about bashing the rest of it.
Remember what I said about dragging out love triangles? Almost immediately after the book begins, Jason betrays Aza Ray’s trust, and she starts wondering if she wouldn’t be better off embracing her Magonian heritage and entering a relationship with Dai instead. Never mind that Aza Ray chose Jason over Dai in the previous book, and will end up back with Jason instead of Dai at the end of this one; that love triangle is a dead horse which the book can’t resist flogging one more time.
And since books are of limited length, this boring and painful rehash of the pointless romantic conflict comes at the expense of time devoted to other characters, several of whom are abruptly and unceremoniously axed. Take Heyward, for instance, whose reveal I found to be one of the most surprising and compelling moments of Magonia. Now, in Aerie, she finally starts to become developed as a person rather than a plot device. Having learned how their biological daughter was abducted and replaced with a changeling, Aza’s family naturally wants to know if they’ll ever get to meet the daughter that they lost; and Heyward seems to be curious about the family she never got to know as well. So when circumstances force an uneasy alliance between Aza and Heyward, it looks like that might be something the story is interested in exploring… oops, Heyward just died. Well, never mind, I guess. How about Mr. Grimm? There was clearly something suspicious about him in the early parts of Magonia, but we never found out exactly what. Now’s the chance for him to come into the spotlight and reveal… nope, he’s dead. Wonderful.
Now seems like a good time to say that the author has stated on Goodreads that this will be the last book in the series. On the one hand, that explains why Heyward and Mr. Grimm got such abrupt curtain calls: there’s no time to give them proper character arcs, and you can’t leave those loose ends lying around. On the other hand, that means so much for any hope of a conclusion to all the other loose ends. Hey, what’s going on with SWAB after Aza threw their prison into chaos during her escape? Did that incident pretty much destroy the whole organization, or was it just one of many facilities? And hey, what about Jason’s relationship with his family? They threw him into a mental institution because they didn’t believe him about Aza, which seems like the kind of thing which might result in a pretty big emotional rift and maybe some lingering resentment: are they going to reconcile or anything? Seems pretty awkward to just leave things in limbo like that.
Aerie, like Icarus, tries to fly but ends up plummeting to its doom.
Final Rating: 2/5