Tag Archives: Under The Empyrean Sky

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy)

Blightborn cover image
Blightborn, the second volume in the Heartland Trilogy (Image from terribleminds.com)


‘Cael McAvoy dreams of flying….Sometimes the dream is interrupted by the reality of falling’

When we left Cael McAvoy in Under The Empyrean Sky, volume one in this trilogy, his reality had well and truly fallen apart.

Life in the Heartland, an arid expanse dominated by genetically modified corn production, endured by overworked quietly desperate humanity, and overseen by the remote repressive Empyrean from their floating cities in the sky, had thrown up some surprises for Cael, his family and friends.

After a dramatic turn of events, Cael, Lane Moreau and Rigo Cozido are on the run when we join them at the start of Blightborn. The formidable resources of the Empyrean are being marshalled by Proctor Simone Agrasanto. Pursuit will be ruthless and relentless.

Just as the three amigos seem on the verge of eluding trouble, author Chuck Wendig works his magic and expertly ratchets up the tension and injects some juicy dollops of drama.

He also introduces some new characters who add extra layers to the story. In  particular, we get to see inside Empyrean society, and gradually learn more of the origins of both these lordly sky dwellers and the lowly Heartlanders far below.

Boxelder we learned in the previous instalment had ‘the tavern, the Tallyman’s office, the doctor’s, the general store,  –  and, beyond that, not much else but the swaying corn’.

Ormond Stirling Saranyu, one of the flying cities,  on the other hand is a place of mansions and opulence. ‘The afternoon sun caught in a hundred skyscraper windows. The many hills with their many homes. Skybridges and elevator conduits.’ ‘Everything clean. Cloud swept. Beautiful. Nothing like the Heartland’.

Not everyone in the dirt below is happy to accept that the Empyrean ‘have everything where we have nothing’ or that they must be resigned to the drudgery and hopelessness of life as they know it: ‘The dead earth. The empty sky. The gods in their chariots above the peasant’s heads.’

Unrest is brewing in the Heartland. But the Empyrean also have their own plans. An epic clash is inevitable.

As change unfolds Cael McAvoy, Lane Moreau, Rigo Cozido, Merelda McAvoy and Gwennie Shawcatch are front and centre in events.

Joining them are some memorable new friends – as well as an array of sinister new enemies. Telling which is which is not always easy.

This second part of the trilogy then is even better than the first. The action occurs in a number of places, not just Boxelder. More is revealed of how this world came to be as it is, but not everything; mystery remains for part three. Female characters feature prominently in all of the story’s plots and subplots – and as could be expected from the writer of the ‘Miriam Black’ books, these women are strong, independent and resourceful.

Most importantly the essence of Blightborn hinges ultimately on human relationships and change, growing up and trying to find out who we are – themes to which all of us can relate. The characters live in a world which like our own is not black and white, a complex world where change happens even when we don’t want it, and not always in the way we like even when we do want it. Confusion, doubt and even fear trouble all of the protagonists in this book at some stage – and those who are the most certain and definite are some of the least likeable.

The book has great pace, a compelling storyline, beguiling characters, tension that’s almost torture, satisfying depth, seriously sizzling dialogue and some wise reflections on human nature and the vagaries of life and love.

Part three of the series is eagerly awaited!









Under the Empyrean Sky

Floating havens above a corn filled landscape
Corn on the mob


Corn. Sweet, wholesome, goodness.

Right? Wrong.

Not in the world of Cael McAvoy, his family and neighbours.

Their hardscrabble settlement of Boxelder is besieged by corn. ‘Hiriam’s Golden Wonder’, a genetically modified version of the plant dominates everything about life in the town and far beyond it – an area known as The Heartland.

What lies beyond very few people know. Schools have been abolished, travel is forbidden.

The Heartland, and its people, exists solely to provide processed corn products, fuel and raw material to The Empyrean – whose floating cities (flotillas) pass across the sky-high above Cael and Boxelder.

‘Where would the Heartlanders be without the Empyrean watching over them? Without Empyrean science, without guidance, without a system of order in place?’ says an Empyrean representative.

Cael on the other hand sees the same situation as ‘callous control’ with a ‘crushing grip’. Like the stereotypical teenager Cael is angry at pretty much everything. Unlike most teenagers he has very good reason. He can look ahead to nothing but endless days of working in the corn processing facility. His job will be allocated, his wife will be chosen, his whole future decided without any say on his part – ‘that’s life in the Heartland’ as the saying goes.

The Heartlanders best case scenario is to survive as virtual serfs for as long as possible. How long that will be is debatable, but life will most likely be relatively short and death comes in many forms – accidents and  back-breaking toil might be the sweetest release, a merciful way to avoid the cruel tumours and sicknesses caused by chemically contaminated land, water and food.

Cael is furious too at his father, Arthur ‘Pops’ McAvoy, who seems to placidly accept his lot without objection. He works at the processing plant, with a deformed hip to show for his troubles. Cael’s mother is an invalid hovering at the edge of consciousness, her body completely ravaged by tumours. Merelda his sister regularly runs away, endangering the family’s already precarious existence by threatening to draw the attention of the town’s Empyrean Overseers, or ‘Babysitters’ as they are derisively called by the Heartlanders.

Scarcely anything exciting ever happens in Boxelder. The one source of fun and freedom for Cael and his friends – Lane Moreau, Rigo Codizo and Gwennie Shawcatch – is scavenging among the corn for salvageable parts of abandoned and broken machinery. They do this not on foot but using a boat – however this boat floats not on water but above the corn, using a rudimentary variety of the technology that keeps the massive Empyrean flotillas safely airborne. These enjoyable excursions along with their teenage freedom will end soon though – working full-time will leave them too tired or too ill for such jaunts.

Little seems set to change for Cael, his family and friends. Their paths are set, their fates ascertained. Yet not everything is as fixed as it might seem in the Heartland. Surprises and shocks are in store…..

Author Chuck Wendig frequently, articulately and very wittily offers excellent and well grounded advice on the theory of good writing at his terribleminds blog.  In Under The Empyrean Sky he has ably demonstrated in practice his own enviable talent in the art of not only good but compelling writing by producing a world which is familiar yet utterly different, a society with some recognisable features but many which astound and amaze, and a plot which never lets the reader take anything for granted.

A sterling example of matching wise words with deft deeds!