In the Heartland, genetically modified corn has overrun everything and people struggle just to survive. Young Cael McAvoy is the leader of a salvage crew, finding scraps of a bygone age to sell to bring in money for his home town, Boxelder. But when Cael and his crew find some forbidden plants growing wild amongst the corn, things quickly spin out of control...
Chuck Wendig's foray into YA dystopia is an interesting tale. It reminds me of Ship Breaker, to an extent. A genetically modified corn species has overrun the United States and probably the rest of the world. The haves called the Empyrean, live in floating city ships and the have-nots live on the ground, processing the corn and just trying to survive.
Like all YA, there's something of a love triangle, or possibly a parallelogram. Cael wants Gwennie but she's Obligated to someone else. Cael is Obligated to Wanda but isn't really interested in her. And Cael's arch-nemesis, Boyland Barnes, is Obligated to Gwennie. The teen love isn't an integral part of the story, blessedly. The crux of the story is what Cael and his friends uncover and the secrets they unravel because of it.
There are a lot of interesting concepts in Under the Empyrean Sky, like a lottery that lets one Heartland family a year be selected to join the Empyreans, the Blight, a disease that gradually turns the victim into some sort of corn-based monster, and the corn itself, invasive corn that happens to be carnivorous to some degree.
Pretty much my only gripe is that I found a few of the twists to be all too predictable. It's the first book in a trilogy but stands pretty well on its own. All things considered, I'm glad I spent this month's free Kindle loan on it. Four out of five stars.