The novel capture my attention from the very beginning. I was entranced. The description might make it sound like a stereotypical YA story, but the book is anything but.
Aerin Renning is 17 years old and a former slave. She managed to escape the horrible planet Vizhan in a damaged vessel. She is rescued by an Allied ship. Since every young citizen of the Alliance between the ages of sixteen and seventeen is required to take the A.E.E (Academy Entrance Exam), the Captain makes her take it. Her scores are so high that she ends up being accepted into Academy 7, the best school in the universe. There is only a small problem: She is not a citizen of The Alliance, but a fugitive from one of the outer planets. Attending Academy 7 is the chance of a lifetime, plus she doesn't have anywhere else to go. However, she knows that if she is found out it will probably mean her death or an even worse punishment. She knows she doesn't belong, but she has no other choice but to keep her secret and try to blend in.
Dane Madousin is the son of one of the most powerful men in The Alliance, but he's the black sheep of the family. He always manages to get into trouble, add that to his parentage, it causes him to be somewhat of a celebrity. He aces his A.E.E., thus getting into Academy 7, much to his father's distaste, since he has his own plans for him. He defies him and decides to take control of his life by attending the school. Dane is also hiding a painful past and has his own secrets to keep.
Both Dane and Aerin excel at their studies and keep to themselves, but because of a misunderstanding Aerin dislikes Dane intensely. When Dane accidentally gets her in trouble, it only makes things worse. However when they are forced to spend time together because of their punishment, things slowly begin to change. At first it may seem like they have nothing in common, but they are way more alike than they realize.
The story is set in the future in a Galaxy far away. The author herself had said it is a mixture of Star Wars and The Outsiders. But don't let the sci-fi elements scare you away, if you are not into that. This is a very character driven book. The main characters, Aerin and Dane, are so well flesh out that you can't help falling in love with them. They jump off the page. Right away I felt a connection to both of them, and I couldn't wait to find out more. The more I learned, the more I loved them. Anne Osterlund could have set their tale anywhere, anytime, and it would still work, because they are the driving force behind this book. She could have set this book in England during the Industrial Revolution, or she could have set them in the present in a high school in middle America. Their tale has an universal appeal, but having space and the future as a background only made it more interesting, in my opinion.
It being an YA book could fool you into thinking the romance would be a cliché, but it totally isn't. In most young adult books the heroine falls in love with a boy because he is gorgeous and aloof, which usually results in the relationship being shallow, and the reader feeling like he is missing something. That is so not the case here. It's the complete opposite. The romance takes a back seat to character development. Aerin and Dane's relationship begins as a tentative friendship and from there it grows, as do their characters. There is nothing superficial about it, quite the contrary. First they have to learn to like each other, then trust becomes the most important thing they share. Love, therefore, is only the natural consequence of all they go through together. It makes it so much more believable and enjoyable to us readers. Also, quite mature and refreshing, since that is not the norm in teen novels.
This is a coming of age story. Aerin and Dane's journey to find themselves and finally become who they're suppose to be is captivating and a joy to read. Everything else in the story, although quite enjoyable, became secondary to me. I just wanted to see them grow and reach an understanding. I was not disappointed.
The plot is full of intrigue, political agendas and painful secrets, which makes it an engaging read. It's fast paced and keeps you in the edge of your seat. It's almost impossible to put it down, once you start it. Although all pending issues are resolved by the end of the book, it begs for a sequel, because you just don't want to say good bye to Aerin and Dane, and there are so many wonderful places the author can take them from here.
I give it 4 out 5 stars.