Here is the situation. After a series of events made the earth’s surface inhabitable, humans were forced to go underground and eventually create the Tri-realms: the Sun Realm, the Moon Realm, and the Star Realm. Seventeen- year-old Adele Rose is in the Pen as part of a life sentence after her parents were arrested and convicted as traitors. When she turns 18, which will be soon, she will be transferred to the “Max” to serve out the rest of her sentence. Her younger sister, Elsey, is currently at an orphanage and her parents have been taken to parts unknown, possibly dead. With the help of her new friends Tawni and Cole, Adele is determined to break out of the Pen and find her family.
One day, while sitting in the courtyard of the Pen, Adele spots Tristan Nailin as he travels past during his tour of the Mood Realm. Tristan is a Sun Dweller and the eldest son of President Nailin who rules the Tri-Realms. Tristan is a celebrity within the Tri-realms and most girls would do anything just to be in his presence. Adele, however, has never been enticed by his status or his good looks. To her, Tristan is just a spoil Sun dweller that lives a life of luxury in the Sun Realm while the Moon and Star dwellers suffer a life of poverty and hardship. When Tristan and Adele make eye contact, however, they experience intense headaches for reasons unknown. Tristan detests his father, the Sun Realm, and his celebrity status. Curious about his intense attraction to Adele (but, not in the “love-at-first-sight” kind of way) and the intense pain that he experiences in her presence and desperate to get away from his father and the Sun Realm, Tristan decides to go on a journey, with his friend and servant Roc, to the Moon Realm to find Adele. And to top off everything, a war begins to brew within the Tri-Realms. The story is told in the alternating points of view of Adele and Tristan.
All the characters in this book are three dimensional with strong personalities, especially the main characters Adele and Tristan. There are no shallow characters; actually those types of people are severely frowned upon by Adele, Tristan and their friends. I think my favorite character was Cole. He is a really intense, mysterious man who is quick tempered but just as quickly comical and forgiving. He is also very protective and is a good judge of character. Although he is very curious about her, he seems to trust Adele and want to help her quite quickly. In turn, Cole’s sarcastic nature helps to break the ice that has formed around Adele over her 6 months in the Pen. Adele is quickly drawn to and mirrors Cole’s humor. There are a few interactions between them that had me laughing out loud. As a matter of fact, a good amount of sarcasm and comic relief can be found throughout the book, even within the thoughts of Adele and Tristan.
For the action fans out there, you will definitely not be disappointed with this book. There are plenty of battle scenes that include swords, whips, guns, and Tasers. But the most intriguing one are the old fashioned, hand to hand battles where there is taunting and the participants circle each other before engaging. And despite the obvious separation of classes (Sun dwellers being the upper class, Moon being the middle and Star being the lower) and the dictatorship society (although, Tristan mentions many times how his father wants to be referred to as President rather than King…you know, to give the illusion of a democracy when there clearly isn't one…classic dystopian), there still remains a sense of fair play in battle, at least on occasion. For example, in the Pen, when a fight breaks out between two prisoners (or “guests” as the guards ironically call them), even if one of the prisoners has a group of friends or is a part of a gang, no one is to interfere with the battle.
I would have to agree with one reviewer who questioned the characters’ ability to heal quickly. I don’t feel it is in the sense that one minute the character is badly injured and the next they’re 100% better. It’s more like at one point the character is injured to the point of needing medical attention and a scene or two later, the injury is kind of an after-thought as the character gets involved in another life threatening situation, performing heroic deeds. I will take the question even further, however, by asking how in a post-apocalyptic world where people are suffering from poverty can these kids get access to proper medical supplies? For example, not giving too much away, there is a point where Tristan and Roc suffer severe injury in battle and one of the characters (won’t name names to avoid spoilers) is able to hide safely and get food, medical supplies, and mats within a relatively short amount of time. I know this is fiction and the protagonists are supposed to overcome great adversity to accomplish their goals, but most readers would prefer that this be at least somewhat realistic. And this is not to single out Mr. Estes and his writing...this is not the first time I've seen this. It’s not a huge turn off for me, but it is the kind of thing that has my scratching my head a little.
There is one mistake that I found and I wonder if it was purposeful or if I read it wrong (I went back a couple of times to make sure). As I mentioned, the book alternates between the POV of Adele and Tristan and each change in POV is labeled. Not to veer off the topic, but one of the things I loved about this novel is how the POV is changed at just the right moment of suspense. The last time I read such good structuring was in The Help. Anyhow, at one point in the book, Tristan is treading cautiously trying to get past some soldiers. The section ends with Tristan stating “something stabs me in the back.” Again, a good way to end the section before changing to the POV of Adele. However, in the next section, we find out that Tristan was actually hit in the jaw (again, no major spoilers). This left me scratching my head and going back and rereading Tristan’s section again. How can he say something stabbed him in the back, when he was obviously hit in the face? Am I missing something here?
For those romantics out there like myself, there is a bit of romance. Now, I haven’t read too many male authors, at least not many current one, so I can’t speak from vast experience; however, I will admit that I was a little surprised by the romantic angle, even if it is subdued compared to other books I've read in this genre. What surprised me was that it was brought in so early on in the book, kind of giving the impression that this is going to be the central theme that drives the novel. That feeling is immediately squashed, however, as Mr. Estes makes it clear that this isn’t going to be a mushy, lovey-dovey type of romance. Adele and Tristan both state that their pull towards each other is not the “love-at-first-sight” type of attraction, but one that is more obscure and that cannot be clearly labeled. So if you’re looking for something that is obviously sappy, full of hugs, hand-holding, and kisses, then I suggest looking elsewhere. That type of stuff is not of abundance in the book and I seriously doubt that the rest of the story will be much different. I actually have a couple of theories about Adele and Tristan’s connection, but I can’t go into them without spoilers.