Fan (The Adventures of the Silicon Beeches, 2017, etc.) begins a new YA sci-fi series in which an alien civilization patronizes performing arts prodigies on Earth.
In 2268, 15-year-old Iris Lei plays viola at the Papilio School, near Charlotte, North Carolina. The passionate human musicians, dancers, and acrobats of Papilio are sponsored by telepathic aliens called the Adryil. The highest-ranked students become “Artists” and travel to distant Adrye, where they perform for decades to repay their training debt. Iris’ musician mother, Theia Lei, is one such Artist, but she’s had no contact with her for 11 years. Iris is studying her mother’s profile one night on the Wall of Glory on the quad when alarms sound, and the teen witnesses security bots chasing a boy with amber skin and azure eyes—an Adryil. Before the bots capture him, he presses an oval object into her hand and says, “Don’t let them take it from you.” Later, Iris activates the object, causing its etchings to glow green, but she’s unsure of its function. As she continues to struggle within Papilio’s ranking system, she begins to feel an odd presence. Eventually, the captured Adryil, Dámiul Verik, contacts her—via a screen on the object he gave her; he wants to train her in how to defend herself against telepathic mind control. In this crafty series opener, Fan presents a future in which 21st-century problems have become further entrenched; at one point Iris explains that “there really is no middle. Only the rich and those who are different shades of poor.” Fan’s twist on telepathy is engaging: because the Adryil can share feelings so completely, they make no art of their own. Her insights into the artistic drive are also poignant: “Even if I stood at the edge of the universe with only my viola…I’d play to oblivion,” observes Iris. The story’s second half develops into a space opera, revealing the Adryil’s darkest secrets and showing Iris risking her individuality for love. Ultimately, though, this is a sophisticated commentary on art, society, and how we perceive our own worth.
The beginning of an elegant, spirited rebellion saga.