Aerin Renning, fugitive from a slave planet, gets an unbelievable chance to attend Academy 7, “the most prestigious school in the universe.” Dane Madousin, son of the Alliance’s top military man, also scores high enough on his entrance exam to attend Academy 7. She is terrified and withdrawn; he has deep-seated anger and a death wish. Of course they’re drawn to each other, but their relationship will reveal deadly secrets about their parents’ pasts.
I really wanted to love this book. Someone (I forget who) recommended it to me as similar to my beloved H. M. Hoover. (The link is to an older review of Hoover’s work by Dani Zweig.) I see where that person was coming from, and I think if I’d read this at the same age I first encountered Hoover, I might have loved it as much.
As an adult, though, it grated. Academy 7 features clunky exposition, limited character development, and overly simplistic politics. (There is a gesture near the end towards saying something slightly more challenging. The Alliance golden boy who leaves to play an insufferably self-righteous Che Guevara to the impoverished citizens of a monarchy sees his rebellion get out of control in exactly the way he should have expected if he weren’t so naive; it could have been powerfully tragic if it weren’t presented more as “how dare those uppity peasants stab his gift of leadership in the back.”)
The romance is sweet; Aerin and Dane’s relationship was my favorite part of the book. But much of the plot feels like an excuse to set up the romance, rather than the romance naturally growing from the characters and their story. It hits all its YA fantasy/sci-fi romance marks: the school punishment that throws the unlikely couple together, the tough girl who is suddenly beautiful when she puts on a fancy dress for a party, the tortured characters who are forced to reveal their innermost pain to each other so they can be healed. (Damn, if only healing emotional pain were as easy as telling the right person about it once!)
Ultimately, I think the kids who like this type of book are just as used to more complex fare as I am at this point. (Three cheers for the wealth of YA lit I didn’t have 20 years ago!) Reasonably entertaining, but a disappointment.
BTW, what’s going on with the cover? This is effectively a military academy; they wear uniforms, not Ren Faire henleys. And Aerin would never wear big dangly earrings like that — they’d get in the way of kicking Dane’s ass in combat class.