As unrest grows in a food-strapped space colony, a young woman slated for leadership must make a heart-wrenching decision in this YA sci-fi/romance novel.
When colonists arrived on their new planet, Dion, 60 years ago, they expected to find a fully habitable environment. All but a few terraforming pods sent ahead were destroyed, however, making survival tenuous. The colony adopted a drastic solution: the Aegis (people with suitable genes) receive a modification to become food incubators, eating heartily six times a day so that many more nutrients than they eat can be uncomfortably extracted from them in pill form. The other colonists consume only these pills, never tasting actual food. They, however, live full life spans, while all the Aegis but the king lose 60 years each. To retain strong leadership, every five years, a strong, fit colonist is chosen to sacrifice his or her organs to keep the king alive. Princess Vela, 17, of Thai descent, doesn’t always follow rules but still might be chosen over her sister as their father’s successor. First, though, she’s charged with administering this year’s Fittest Trials—agonizing in any circumstances but even harder with Vela’s childhood crush competing. Not only that, a saboteur threatens the colony. Vela must use her head and heart to make the right choices on behalf of her people. Dunn (Seize Today, 2017, etc.) has an inspired idea in focusing Dion’s society around issues of food and eating, so primal yet seldom featured in sci-fi. The Aegis’ lavish, varied meals sound so absolutely mouthwatering that readers may wish for a cookbook tie-in: “hummus and falafel and anchovy salad with olives and onions. Squid ink paella and cod fish omelet….Ceviche and fried plantains.” The power of this fundamental social divide is captivating, and it’s easy to see how it could lead to unrest, with have-nots growing, cooking, and serving meals they can’t even taste. Vela’s emotions are rendered in the melodramatic bodily overreactions common to YA fiction, and it’s easy to guess the villain, but Dunn’s entertaining storytelling compensates.
An unusual focus on food only improves this intriguing coming-of-age story.