Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff has been a book on my to-read list for a while now. Reading the book blurb, it was hard not to not to be excited for it. The concept reminded me a lot of a Firefly or Voltron esque story. A crew of misfit characters banding together in a new found family aboard a spaceship going on an adventure. In some sense it really does follow the story telling method of those two. But in many ways, it strays away from what makes those stories timeless.
The story is told through the perspective of each crew member to give us their insight on what’s happening. However while we get inside the head of each crew member, it becomes very clear that not all the characters are given the same treatment regardless of how long we view the story from their eyes. Auri and Tyler are the main characters of the story while the other four almost just have the role of being there. I genuinely felt that you could remove every chapter shown from Zila’s perspective and not really lose anything to the overall story and character development. It’s a bit disappointing considering how much time we spend with each character.
Despite how long the story goes, it doesn’t feel like the characters really go through any kind of major development that can be immediately recognized. Auri is the obvious character who has the most development however there’s no real agency to it. Her powers have an element of randomness to it that forces the story to follow a predetermined path. It almost makes the story feel as though it’s driven by the plot rather than the characters. Despite how high the stakes are, the tension feels almost minimal as everyone falls in line a little too quickly. Cat is the only character that feels authentic as she struggles with the choices they’ve made however even that is resolved too quickly.
One of the romantic subplots comes off as rather forced (because it’s literally forced and makes it kind of weird to be honest). The thing is it feels that the romantic subplot could have developed naturally within the dynamics of those characters interacting and eventually understanding one another. Their stories and struggles are similar and make for a perfect set up to a relationship developing. As it stands it kind of just happens and a moment that could have been built up to felt more like “ok this is happening but let’s do it right” rather than how a healthy relationship often starts out.
Despite all of this, the characters are still rather likeable. With the exception of Scarlett’s rather cringey flirting, I thought these characters had some real potential for growth. Their personalities were fun and interesting, however I wished they were developed a bit more.
The worldbuilding is rather safe in Aurora Rising. Despite aliens existing in the universe, they are surprisingly similar to humans though with exaggerated features which is alright, though not entirely exciting. Despite how long the book may seem, there isn’t a lot explored in the galaxy. Most of the story takes place in a few areas but those areas are decently explored and explained. It feels like this first book is more to get a flavor for the universe rather than a deep dive. We get a taste of what is happening though it’s then swept to the side in favor of the new objective for the crew. While that is the case, I am both disappointed in the lack of depth but still excited to learn more about Aurora’s universe. It’s very clear that there’s so much going on in the universe.
Despite the length of the book, it doesn’t feel like a lot has actually happened which makes the character relationships feel more forced than organic. That being said, it’s still a fun and enjoyable ride. However the pacing of the story is a bit questionable as to where it chooses to drag on. It felt as though too much time was spent on the World Ship despite the importance of that part felt less impactful to the overall story than the rest. A lot could have been cut from that section without affecting the plot (and potentially improving the flow of the story). The ending felt rushed compared to how much time was given to that World Ship which is weird considering how much character development and intensity there was to the ending.
The writing feels pretty smooth as the story flows from one chapter to the next without any glaring hiccups. That being said, it’s one of the issues I found with the writing style. Each character, outside of dialogue, doesn’t feel too distinct from one another. Tyler is rather bland, Scarlett and Finian are super sarcastic while Kal and Cat are pretty aggressive. Auri’s chapters were the most enjoyable as it feels like she goes through the most reflection as the story goes on. The writing shows Auri’s growth really well however the others don’t change until the very end where the story suddenly gets tense.
The only glaring issue was whenever the cringe-worthy flirting came up. It’s not too frequent but when it happens it can really pull the reader from the story.
What Writers can learn from this Book
The reason I picked up this book was what felt like the promise of a story that was reminiscent of Firefly or to a lesser extent Voltron. I feel like it’s a fair comparison as anyone familiar with good story writing knows about the brilliance that is Firefly (seriously go watch it if you haven’t, it has some of the best character development and relationships ever).
But the biggest issue that I think writers can learn from is the impact from a lack of tension throughout the story. While it does show up here and there, it’s far too minimal for how serious the stakes are. The crew is going through some serious and emotionally devastating events, yet the jokes and flirting is almost non-stop. There’s a very delicate balance between writing a story that’s too serious and a story that’s too silly. The characters in Aurora Rising, while likeable, are a bit too silly when the stakes are so high. I understand that there’s a very human quality in finding humor in tense moments, but when it happens too often with the majority of the cast, it loses that special quality.
There was one moment that should have caused a deep, emotionally scarring fracture between two of the characters. It was such a heart wrenching line spoken that I expected some follow up later on, but it felt like it was brushed off too quickly. There should have been some serious consequences yet it didn’t seem to impact anything or cause any tension which is rather disappointing.
The amount of flirting between the characters is almost excessive to the point of kind of fan fiction-y. I think it’s a perfectly fine element to have in character interactions. It’s healthy, fun and shows some friendship and potential relationship development between characters. But when a character almost feels like their existence is almost to be solely flirtatious, it comes off as rather disingenuous to what that character actually is.