Aetherbound / E.K. Johnston / Book Review



Pendt Harland knows the cost of survival. She knows that she costs too much. In the depths of space, everyone aboard the Harland plays a crucial role. Everyone except for Pendt. Her mother and her aunt have star-sense, a special connection to the aether that allows them to navigate through deep space. Her cousins can sense electricity, an ability that allows them to keep the engines fine-tuned even so far into space. But Pendt was born with gene-sense, the ability to manipulate genetics, and onboard, her gift isn't worth the extra calories it would cost to use. She knows her time aboard the Harland is limited. She knows as soon as she reaches eighteen--the international space age of majority--she will be contracted out to do hard labor in the asteroid mines. She knows that, but she's got other plans. 


  • Content Warning: This book starts with a content warning, indicating that it includes both medical violence and calorie counting--which it most certainly does, on both counts, to an extreme degree. This content warning might not be complete as far as difficult topics go, but it is nice to have an author willing to put the disclaimer before their work when these particular topics can be so triggering, especially to a YA audience. Many (most, even) readers won't be dissuaded by this little blurb in the beginning, but for those who would rather skirt these topics, it is good to have the heads-up in advance. 
  • Science Fantasy: It's hard to find a piece of speculative fiction that blends both sci-fi and fantasy, and this book embraces both sides at once. It has both ethereal magic and deep-space survival. While it might be a bit weird, for lack of a better word, from a reading perspective, it is most definitely unique.
  • Grim Space Survival: If this book could be described in one word, that word would be "grim." The content warning indicates as much. This book is definitely humanity-against-the-void, struggling to keep that nothingness at bay. It is calorie counting for survival (on the bare minimum to conserve fuel). It is balancing right on the edge of life and death. It is a pure utilitarian view on human existence and the human body. It is survival to the barest extent. It's grim, but in a good way--at least as far as a reading experience goes. 


  • Extreme Abuse: Though this book does warn of the calorie-counting and the medical violence ingrained in its pages, it doesn't warn of the extreme abuse Pendt Hardland faces as a child. It's odd that it doesn't mention this abuse. Because that might be too much for people, too. 
  • Early Life Focus: When this book began, I thought it was merely starting with a flash of her childhood to get readers into the story. But then the childhood scenes continued and continued. This book spends a significant amount of time in Pendt's childhood, and I didn't like it. It felt like too much setup, and it was confusing figuring out just how old she was supposed to be as time moved on. It was too focused on her formative years, important as they were. It was too much building-up and not enough anything else.
  • Confusing Details: There were a few times when things were abundantly clear to the characters while they were definitely obscure to me. Sure, I figured out what they had meant after the whole thing worked just like they thought, but I don't think it was meant to be an only-made-clear-after-the-fact type of situation. It felt, repeatedly, like we were supposed to be following along with the characters' reasoning the whole time. Otherwise, why add in all the details of what and how before the thing happens? But even with the details in place, I was never quite sure what the characters were getting at until things happened. And that seems to be a narrative problem if I've ever encountered one.



Fans of Cecil Castellucci's Tin Star will enjoy this world of deep-space compromise. Those who appreciated the political machinations of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will appreciate the dark complexities of this book as well. 


Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Date: May 25, 2021
Series: N/A


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