The 13th Continuum starts out as a sci fi but rapidly turns into a dystopian as enclosed societies stagnate and begin to feed off themselves. We read through two different POVs – and each character is distinct, as is the small communities in which they find themselves. Comparisons to Divergent, City of Ember, Red Rising, and even the anime Ergo Proxy will be inevitable. But in all, this is a satisfying adventure and first in a trilogy.
Story: An unexplained catastrophe destroys the surface of the Earth. But humanity had prepared and created continuum colonies – deep underwater, underground, and even in spaceships and a Mars colony. 1000 years later, in the Marianas Trench, teen Myra’s continuum exists under a harsh religion-based hierarchy that prohibits knowledge/discussion of the surface. In space, a continuum colony ship that has searched the stars in vain for a new home has returned to Earth to see if it is ready for resettling. On the militaristic-discipline meritocracy, teen Aero is an elite warrior chosen to be the first to lead a small reconnaissance mission on Earth once they arrive. In Myra’s world, she must find the lost artifact, the Beacon, if she is to lead her dying colony back to the surface. But the Synod, the religious leadership, will do anything to stop her and destroy the Beacon once and for all. Aero, meanwhile, must contend with a mutiny that will overthrow the ship’s leaders and send them back on a fruitless quest into space again. Both will struggle to reach the surface of the earth and learn if it is inhabitable.
This first book in the trilogy sets up conflicts in the path of our protagonists to keep them from their goals to get to the underground first continuum. So this entire book takes place in both continuums. There is not a lot of explained – about the beacons, the mechanics of the mysterious machines that allowed civilizations to continue in space and under water for a thousand years, what exactly the cataclysm was, how scientists knew it was coming, etc. It’s all up in the air for the adventure aspects of the story, placing this firmly in the YA category. And a lot of the technology is almost magical in what it can do (transforming its shape at will, mind melding, continuous autonomous existence, etc.)
Admittedly, although this was a smooth read with likable characters, I did have a hard time with the logic of the societies and would have liked them more deeply considered. E.g., although the author showed how they took their totalitarian regimes to a logical extreme conclusion, only the leadership changed and not the people. The languages, mores, etc. didn’t feel fully developed enough and the characters were contemporary (2016) but in dystopian trappings. Little things – such as a military society where men and women have equally shorn heads for a thousand years, yet the 16 year old Aero noted that even the girls had short hair (where would he get a context for women not having long hair if it hasn’t been a part of their society for a thousand years and there was no male/female differentiation?). Or someone being able to build a submarine that can leave the Marianas Trench out of ‘spare’ parts from a thousand years of sitting around? I just find it hard to believe that over a thousand years, materials didn’t get scarce and re-purposed beyond further reuse. And then suddenly in Myra’s world everyone is searching for the Beacon after hundreds of years of being lost. Because of logic holes like those (and there are several) I didn’t get into the 13th Continuum as much as I would have liked.
Myra and Aero are characters we want to follow. Each has a strong moral compass, companions who support them, and a clear goal to get their people to the Earth’s surface. Side characters are less well drawn, however, and with the exception of Myra’s little brother Tinker and Aero’s lieutenant Wren, it was hard to tell them apart at times. Their antagonists were very one-dimensional, each unremittingly evil and reveling in their murderous crimes. Sadly, we have villains who loudly tell our protagonists about their evil acts while twirling metaphysical mustaches. It would have been better to draw upon nuanced ‘bad guys’ who think they are doing the right thing (either in abject faith of their religion (Myra’s continuum) or because they really believe they can relocate to another planet (Aero’s continuum)). But sadly, it’s all about, “Cackle, I murdered (insert relative or nice person here) and I enjoyed it because I’m so evil, cackle” type of histrionics.
Myra’s world reminded me greatly of City of Ember. Aero’s world very much felt like Darrow’s in Red Rising. Readers of those books will likely fund much to enjoy in 13th continuum as a result. It is a quick and easy read and doesn’t get bogged down by the science. At the same time, it can feel very simplistic at times to more sophisticated readers. But in all, definitely recommended to the YA audience. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.