Terra is a scavenger on a far-future Earth. She picks up bits of metal and wire — or better yet, precious plastic — and recycles them for credits so she and her younger brother Mica can survive. After a life-altering catastrophe centuries ago, resources are at a premium, and Terra and the other scavs perform an essential function that keeps terrestrial and sky-dwelling society going. When she goes a little further than usual, close to the quarantine line that seals off the ancient District, she finds two things: a piece of technology she’s never seen before, and Adam, a person who doesn’t fit into her society at all. At first it seems like enormous good fortune. But in fact, she hardly begins to realize the kind of trouble she’s in for.
Terra is Gretchen Powell’s first book, a fun, fast-paced young adult dystopian fantasy. I read it on the airplane to France, and it was perfect: for about three or four hours, I was completely engaged, humming along, looking up only to acknowledge the delivery of another cup of water or packet of pretzels. When I got to the last page, and turned it only to find the words “Continued in Book 2,” I groaned: a cliffhanger! I didn’t want it to end, or at least not then.
It’s not a perfect book. Powell portrays Terra as a wary, independent girl with trust issues, and yet she winds up rushing into things and needing to be saved about every ten pages. I wished, for Simone de Beauvoir’s sake, that she could have leaned on her own powers and intelligence a little more. The prose is sometimes a little lumpy (Adam has a “lopsided grin,” for instance, every single time he smiles, and there’s a lot of scenery-chewing when the villains come on scene.) This book also shows its debut-novel chops in its info-dumps: there’s a bit too much of the “I’m sitting here looking at the scenery and thinking over the entire history of my planet” sort of thing for my taste. Some of that could probably have been caught by another few editing passes, along with some of the weird loose ends — why does Terra know what stunner technology from another planet looks like, for instance, and why does she know how to use it?
But these are relatively minor matters. As I said, the book is really engaging. There are certain details Powell has worked out that show there’s more to her world-building than meets the eye: the way the history of the planet aligns with the names of the sectors on Earth, for instance, or the fact that all the terrestrial people have names like Terra and Mica and Yttria and Gem. Terra’s relationship with her brother is solid and realistic. And by the end of the book, the pace has really intensified, and I was ready to read more. Thank goodness she’s at work on the sequel!
I don’t normally read self-published novels, but I happen to read Powell’s personal blog, and when she offered me a copy to read and review, I couldn’t resist. If this sounds like the sort of thing you enjoy, I recommend it: a fast-paced young adult read by a new author on the scene.