Let the Sky Fall
If you ask a group of people to name their superpower of choice, lots of them are going to say that they would love to fly. They dream of spreading their arms wide, catching a passing breeze and riding it straight up to the clouds. In Shannon Messenger’s LET THE SKY FALL, 16-year-old Vane Weston gets the chance to turn this particular fantasy into a reality. But the danger and responsibility that come with his new powers make him wish that everything could go back to normal.
"After reading this book, readers may find themselves prone to flight fantasies, and they should be forewarned such daydreams will be suddenly more visceral."
Except he wouldn’t want to lose the girl.
Ever since he can remember, Vane Weston has spent the long hot nights in California’s Coachella Valley dreaming of the same girl. He doesn’t know her outside of the dreams, but she’s always there at night. Knowing that a girl ostensibly born of his subconscious mind isn’t really going to make the best girlfriend, he tries to date, but his excursions always end in disaster. Drinks spill on his dates’ clothes. Birds poop in their hair. Strange flatulent sounds erupt behind Vane, and he swears he is not responsible. It’s almost as if some force of nature is trying to ruin his love life.
One summer evening, while eating dinner at the Yard House on a rather nice blind date named Hannah, he sees the girl from his dreams. She is sitting across the restaurant. By the time he fights his way through the crowds of milling diners and waiters to reach her, she has disappeared. Hannah is annoyed, but he is dizzy with the notion that perhaps this girl is real after all. Either that, or he is more delusional than he expected. In an effort to end his date with a shred of normalcy, he drives Hannah home and walks her to her door. If Vane Weston has learned anything from past dates, it’s that everything will go wrong, especially any attempt to kiss the girl. He tries anyway.
A huge gust of wind buffets him away from his date, and a female voice on the wind tells him to stay away from her.
Shaken, Vane leaves his disappointed date un-kissed and collapses in his bedroom. That night, the girl returns. This time she’s ready to show herself. Her decision to call the wind may have earned them the attention of the brutal soldiers called the Stormers, and this girl knows from experience that they are unafraid of casual cruelty in the name of gaining power. She introduces herself as Audra, an air elemental, and she demonstrates her ability to manipulate the wind. She knows things about Vane that he struggles to believe, and she knows even more that she hopes she will never have to reveal to him. The Stormers are coming for Vane, and Audra is his Guardian. She will protect him and train him to protect himself. But time is running out, and Vane has the languages of four winds to master.
This book is at least partially a paranormal romance, but it differs from the tropes of its genre in several important ways. First, its leading lady is a supernatural being who inducts its leading man into her world. Often, paranormal romances invite the assumed female reader to step into the shoes of an ordinary girl whisked off her feet by a magical boy, but this inverts that expectation. Like TWILIGHT, the supernatural half of the couple watches her beloved sleep, but unlike TWILIGHT, she has a good reason. Second, the story is told from alternating points of view. Messenger asks the reader to identify with both Vane and Audra. We thrill in Vane’s discovery of his secret heritage and superpowers, and we stew in Audra’s crushing guilt about her past and dread about the future. Third, unlike many stories in which young people learn to control elements, air is the only element available for control here. Perhaps this is a permanent state of Messenger’s world, or perhaps the other elementals have perished, much like all of Vane’s family, those of the Westerly wind. (Fans of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER should watch for a subtle shout-out.) Lastly, Messenger avoids the “instant love” trope. As Vane’s Guardian, Audra has had to watch over him for as long as he can remember. She has been invested in protecting him, and he has been obsessed with the notion of her. A history of mutual interest predicates the quick escalation of their affection.
Messenger’s world-building is one of the most consistently fascinating aspects of this novel. Although moments of exposition are quite obviously just that, they rarely feel tired. After being introduced to the world of air elementals and wind languages and Guardians, the reader is always waiting to have her questions answered. What should be training montages become much more engaging with Messenger-via-Audra taking Vane and the reader through the specifics of calling the wind. Since this is the first book in a series and we have much of the world of the air elementals to explore, readers can expect to see an extension of the lives and institutions of these supernatural beings in the coming volumes.
Although LET THE SKY FALL isn’t vastly different from much contemporary teen fiction, it offers plenty of plot twists and intricate world-building. After reading this book, readers may find themselves prone to flight fantasies, and they should be forewarned such daydreams will be suddenly more visceral.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on March 12, 2013