Authors: Amie Kaufman (website / twitter) and Jay Kristoff (website / twitter)
UK Publisher: Rock the Boat
Genre: Science fiction, YA
See Also: Aurora Rising | Aurora Burning
The squad you love is out of time. Prepare for the thrilling finale in the epic, bestselling Aurora Cycle series about a band of unlikely heroes who just might be the galaxy’s last hope for survival.
Is this the end?
What happens when you ask a bunch of losers, discipline cases and misfits to save the galaxy from an ancient evil? The ancient evil wins, of course.
Wait . . . Not. So. Fast.
When we last saw Squad 312, they working together seamlessly (aka, freaking out) as an intergalactic battle raged and an ancient superweapon threatened to obliterate Earth. Everything went horribly wrong, naturally.
But as it turns out, not all endings are endings, and the team has one last chance to rewrite theirs. Maybe two. It’s complicated.
Cue Zila, Fin and Scarlett (and Magellan!) making friends, making enemies and making history? Sure, no problem.
Cue Tyler, Kal and Auri joining forces with two of the galaxy’s most hated villains? Um, okay, yeah. That too.
Actually saving the galaxy, though? Now that will take a miracle.
Something that really blows my mind a little about this trilogy is that I got the first instalment as a Christmas present in 2019. I think I finally started reading it in… I want to say May 2020? So even though this series does predate the pandemic, it also has basically been something which has carried me through it. To start and finish a new trilogy during something like that feels somewhat surreal. It’s been just the escapist, easy-reading treat I needed and sparked the right parts of my brain to make be just sit back and enjoy the ride.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have drama, tension, and heartbreak. Or… the threat of an unstoppable infectious force that can spread through the air and takes over peoples bodies and… Look, I swear I’m not searching for Covid parallels in everything I read! I SWEAR.
THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BOOK TWO, AURORA RISING.
At the end of the last instalment, things are, to put it mildly and limit spoilers a little, somewhat bleak. Everyone has been separated: Aurora and Kal on the space weapon battling Kal’s father, Tyler with Kal’s sister on the Sildrathi warship, and Scarlett, Fin and Zila are on a battered on rig in the middle of an interstellar firefight.
In fact, they just got blown up.
It was hard to see how things were going to come back together for a running start in part three.
Structurally, this instalment is completely different from the previous ones. While we still have the split perspectives, and in Aurora Rising had the two different plotlines with Kal and Auri in training alone (although strictly speaking due to the nature of squishy time, that side quest took those two a year and the rest of the crew I think about half an hour), and again when Tyler got separated from the others, in this book we’ve got three plotlines made distinct not just by where in the action they are happening, but WHEN.
The timelines in this are interesting to juggle, with Kaufman and Kristoff playing with different types of time travel paradox. The first a time loop that seems to be self-fulfilling even as it slowly breaks down around the characters; the second is a horrifying future that they need to save in order to go back to the past to prevent that specific future from ever happening; and then the third timeline – the ‘present’ – is where you see people dealing with the aftermath of the time loop in the past, and trying to prevent the alternative future.
It’s hard to balance the tension of those things when you see how it ‘ends’, besides keeping all the threads untangled to make the story comprehensible even though it is complex, but they manage it. There’s enough of a spark of hope mixed within to keep the pace going as you assume there is a way to get a better ending, and enough of the character clues laid throughout previous books to make the the choices which occur not necessarily obvious from the start, but clearly and satisfyingly signposted once they happen.
This is a YA book, so some of the emotional resolutions and endings could perhaps feel a little heavy-handed compared to books aimed at an older audience. There is a level of ‘love conquers all’ and ‘best friends can do anything’ to the story that, taken from the wrong angle, or if you’re not in the right mood for it, could feel a little trite. That said, I was in exactly the right mood for it, and found myself getting a little teary at some points. It might hit some of those notes a little less subtly than I would generally prefer, but it does hit them well, and frankly after the last few years it’s nice to be moved by something pleasant.
If you’ve been holding off reading until the trilogy is complete, I’d recommend picking it up now. It’s an easy, pulpy read that you can easily blitz through, and which feels like an old school adventure story of a rag-tag crew taking on the world. There’s romance, heartbreak, found family, soulmates, enemies to lovers, irritants to lovers, disability representation, LGBTQ+ representation, neurodivergent representation, and also a rollicking good plot with two bad guys you can really get your teeth into loathing. And, at the end of it all, there’s good guys to root for and something hopeful to aim for. Light relief, done well.