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Shades of Earth (Across the Universe, #3)

Shades of Earth - Beth Revis

This is going to be long and ranty, so in the words of Tracy Jordan, “What everyone needs to do is calm down, take a deep breath, and prepare their bodies for the Thunderdome. That is the new law.”


I reviewed the first book in this trilogy for CBR4 and was decidedly underwhelmed by it — I had several complaints, but mostly I just found it really predictable. Still, I read book two, which I actually liked better. I felt it was less predictable and better written, although I still thought most of the stuff I found exciting about the premise had been lost in execution. I figured the third book would stay on this trajectory. Was I wrong? Yes, yes I was. And not in a happy fun-times way, unfortunately.


Spoilers ahoy.


In Shades of Earth, our heroes Amy and Elder and about half of the shipborns from the good spaceship Godspeed have finally launched themselves into space, ready to try occupying Centauri-Earth, despite whatever dangers that might entail. In books one and two, we learned that Godspeed should have landed hundreds of years ago, but instead there was a coup and somehow a system developed where all the people who were not frozen for space travel were genetically altered to be similar to one another, and were also exposed regularly to a controlling, calming drug, that kept them mollified. Thus, they spent hundreds of years, always believing the next generation would live to see Centauri-Earth, all the while being ruled by a never-ending stream of clones of the leader who started the coup. He called himself ‘Eldest,’ and he began the system of training his successor, calling him ‘Elder’. Amy and Elder (who is the latest Elder, and Amy’s love interest, natch, as YA can’t do a book without one) exposed this system and caused anarchy aboard the ship. Meanwhile, Amy and Elder had been cryptically warned by the supposedly psychotic Orion (an Elder/Eldest gone wrong) that not only were there ‘monsters’ down on the planet, but he also left them a series of clues involving some sort of vast conspiracy involving Earth and corporations and blah blah blah. So now they’ve landed on Centauri-Earth, the ‘frozens’ (people cryogenically frozen for the duration of space journey — scientists, doctors, and military personnel mostly) have woken up, the shipborns are terrified and isolated, and yes, there do appear to be monsters, which start killing them all off immediately.


The good? There is some, although I’m sure my extreme disappointment in this book has seriously affected my judgment at this point. I liked Elder. He was pretty cool. When Revis bothered to actually do some world-building, it seemed like her imagination was a pretty fun place. It also seemed like she was trying to use some pretty cool themes in interesting ways, but she doesn’t spend enough time on any of them, and there isn’t enough detail in her world/story to provide them with enough meat to make them resonant. Most of the time when she resorted to poetic imagery, the images were actually pretty original and sort of moving (I feel this way possibly because she doesn’t do so every other sentence like certain other authors I will not name . . . today). Certain scenes were very suspenseful. I also thought it was ballsy of her to kill off 500 people in one go.


As for the rest? I don’t really know where to start.


I feel like the watchword for these next couple of paragraphs should be ‘stupidity’ because that’s how most of this stuff felt to me. The stupidity of the characters, firstly. Amy herself is probably the biggest example of this. Probably because she mostly only does things because the story needs her to, she more often than not comes off as stupid and stubborn. Take her hatred of Orion, who sure, murdered some people and stuff, but whenever Amy thinks about him it’s always ORION IS THE DEVIL. ORION MUST BE PUNISHED. ORION ORION ORION. And like, foam comes out of her mouth. And yes, murder is really bad, but Revis portrays the character as being very smart, if misguided, so when her own character starts railing on him, it completely clashes with the mental image I have of him, and makes her seem like a whiny little turd. Second, the girl absolutely refuses to open her damn mouth and speak words. Again, this is probably a function of Revis manipulating her plot and not wanting things to be resolved too early, but it’s creaky and awkward. So many of the problems in this book could have been solved if fucking Amy would have just sat her dad down and shot the shit with him. Like, here’s the deal, Pops. you’re a military guy and all, but I know some shit about the people on this ship, so don’t you think it would be smart if we pooled all our information together, and like, maybe stop some of these fucking people from being fucking murdered all the time? But she doesn’t do that.


And her dad. Yes, what a guy. As portrayed in this book, the military are a bunch of secretive idiots with not a competent bone in their bodies. Amy’s dad is a good guy, supposedly, and he worked hard to attain his position. So you’d think he’d have a little bit of competence and professionalism in him — enough to, say, I don’t know . . . stop acting like a fucking ten year old who just got caught stealing some kid’s cookies at lunch? He keeps secrets from the other colonists for no reason, and his treatment of the shipborns — who might (and do) have crucial information — makes absolutely no logistical sense. This is not how you set up a colony, dudes. Go read some Scalzi before you try space travel again, and then get back to me. And there’s another problem right there — the way that Revis pits the shipborns against the frozens was yet another tired iteration of people with differences being unable to see each other as people. I get the sense that Revis wanted explorations of prejudice and bigotry to be significant in the novel, but if that’s the case, she should have done more exploring. They’re barely touched on, and so it comes across as very tired, and again, makes all characters involved look like incompetent idiots.


I can keep going. Amy’s relationship with Chris the military guy pops up out of nowhere, and soon she’s hanging off of him like some sort of ornament. Hugging him, touching him constantly, following him around, commenting on his BEAUTIFUL eyes, and just generally acting like a damn fool. Firstly, this is stupid even without knowledge of her from books one and two. There is no history between the two characters, and whatever emotions and affections Amy has for him feel completely fabricated and remain unjustified throughout the text. Taking into account our previous knowledge of Amy, this is even more egregious as she already has someone she trusts and has affection for — Elder — and all that prancing around with Chris clearly makes him upset, to which she is completely oblivious. Every time she started frolicking around with Chris I wanted to punch her in the face. And Chris! Yeah, he turns out to be an “alien” — actually, a genetically altered human whose ancestors were the original colonists of the planet until they were made into slave labor for an evil corporation. He and his people are secretly the villains the whole time! This wouldn’t be a problem if Chris and his people weren’t completely underdeveloped and sprung on us out of nowhere in the last forty pages. The corporation also sprung out of nowhere as a villain. They were nowhere to be seen in books one and two and halfway through this book and then all of a sudden BLAMMO EVIL CORPORATION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING.


Let’s see, what else? Oh, yes. The stupid clues Orion left felt contrived. There is no reason he wouldn’t have just put all the information in one secret, safe place, or even simpler: just told Amy to her face what was going on. The only reason for this is that Revis wanted there to be more mystery. The thing with all the 500 people dying could have been good if the conflict between the two groups wasn’t so stupid, and the villains at that point completely unknown to us. A lot of interesting stuff was completely glossed over, and a lot of plot threads from previous books either ignored or explained so briefly you almost might miss it. Her insistence on mentioning dead characters (Harley, Victria) as if they are deeply and sorely missed, when all we and Amy got from them was shallow characterization, repeatedly made me roll my eyes. She redshirts an unbelievable amount of people in this book, as well. Oh! Oh! Elder’s death fake out! She totally kills Elder off in a heroic sacrifice moment, which I thought was actually really brave — like, okay, you’ve been building up all this leader stuff, and this is what leaders do — and then she fucking saves him, deus ex machina. GAH. The new planet was pretty cool but Revis spent so long on the stupid stuff I elaborated on above that not only did she completely ignore exploring that world, but her characters did as well. She engages in some very light, weak world-building. It ends up coming off like the sci-fi is just a convenient background for Revis to lightly tread over several already well-worn themes without actually saying anything new about them.


All in all, unless you’re a twelve year old girl, I wouldn't recommend this series. The premise is intriguing, but it’s mostly lost amidst shallow characterization, bizarre plotting, and so-so prose. And even if you are a twelve year old girl, I would still suggest finding yourself some actual sci-fi. (You can get better romance other places, as well.) I just read back this review to myself and it sounds really harsh — but you know what? I AM REALLY IRKED. And I have high standards. And it really bothers me when people and books show potential and then waste it.


I should probably stop now before I give myself an aneurysm.