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Book Review: Horizon by Jenn Reese

HorizonTitle: Horizon

Author: Jenn Reese

Genre: Dystopia, Middle Grade, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: April 2014
Hardcover: 400 Pages

In this third and final adventure in the Above World series, Aluna and her friends finally face their most terrifying enemy, Karl Strand.

Aluna and Hoku, Kampii from the City of Shifting Tides, and their friends, Equian Dash and winged Aviar Calli, are determined to stop a war. The maniacal ex-scientist Karl Strand is planning to conquer the world with his enormous army of tech-enhanced soldiers . . . unless the four friends can get to Strand first. Aluna’s plan is dangerous: pose as Upgraders and infiltrate the army. But the enemy isn’t what they expected and the strategy begins to crumble. When the friends are torn apart by conflicting allegiances, their slim chance of avoiding war seems to disappear completely. For Aluna and Hoku, what began as a quest to save their own people has become a mission to save the world. But do Aluna and her friends have any hope of defeating Strand if they can’t take him on together?

Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Above World Trilogy

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Hardcover

Why did I read this book: I love this series so much – both Above World and Mirage are among my favorite middle grade reads of the past two years. I could not wait to read this final book – but of course I was a little saddened to see the series end.

**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for books 1 and 2 in the series. If you have not read the first two books and wish to remain unspoiled, look away. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**


Against all odds, Kampii warrior Aluna and her best friends Hoku, Calliope, Dash, and Vachir have survived the deadly Thunder Trials. Forming their own tribe of different chimeras – Kampii (tailed merpeople of the sea), Aviar (hawklike women of the skies), Equian (centaur-like humans of the desserts), and Serpenti (snake-humans of caves and earth) – Aluna and her friends have stood up to Karl Strand’s clone-child Scorch, and have rallied the Equian tribes to their cause. Now, these brave young warriors set out on a daring plan to find Karl Strand, to stop him from enslaving and conquering the scattered chimera tribes with his army of Upgraders (human-tech hybrids) – by masquerading as, and pretending to be captured by, Upgraders themselves.

Everything seems to be going according to plan, until they discover that the Upgraders are just as lost and desperate for peace. Gradually, Aluna realizes that it isn’t enough to merely stop Strand; she and her friends have to institute some kind of new order in his place if their world is to survive, heal, and thrive. That realization is easier said than done though, as great danger faces the group of friends on all fronts – the Kampii’s tech is on the verge of complete collapse, while the Aviar stronghold faces attack from Uplanders, and Dash’s Equian fathers suffer torture at the hands of Scorch herself. Aluna, Hoku, Calli and Dash must trust in their own abilities and each other in order to stop the war and save their people.

It was with a heavy heart that I started this third and final book in the Above World series by Jenn Reese; heavy, because I love this series so very much, and saying goodbye to this world is a very hard thing to do. While I am sad to see the last of the Above World, I am happy to say that Horizon is a fitting send off for Aluna and her friends.

Horizon begins with a shaken Aluna, who has survived the Thunder Trials despite being defeated by Scorch. Aluna’s tail has fully replaced her legs, making her movement on land awkward and reliant on crutches and her full-horse-bodied Equian friend, Vachir. Tail or no, Aluna is still a fierce fighter, but her confidence in herself has been checked (perhaps irreparably so). The Aluna of Horizon is no longer the brash, quick to anger young girl of Above World; this new Aluna bears not only the burden of coming up with a plan to lead her friends to stop Strand, she also starts to understand that she must figure out a way to replace Strand with a new, better leader to unite the scattered clans (Upgraders included). Under this impossible weight of responsibility, Aluna confidence buckles. Understandably. This is a character who has grown so much over the course of the trilogy, physically with her transformation to full Kampii, but also mentally and emotionally as she realizes that sometimes fighting can’t solve everything.

Aluna also learns to trust in this last book, in her friends, in her family, in her people. I love that this story splinters as Aluna and Hoku, Calli, and Dash and Vachir have to split up in order to stop Strand on all fronts. The fact that the group has to split up is a tough feat to balance, narratively, as four different points-of-view are scattered across the skies, seas, and desserts, but it’s a feat handled beautifully by Reese, and I actually love this storytelling choice. This splintering means that the focus of the book is on not just Aluna and Hoku, but more equally shared among Calli and Dash as they are given their own vital tasks to stopping Strand – which means that we get to see more of the people of the worlds above and below. Aluna and Hoku return to their people, and must rally the stagnant Kampii of the City of Shifting Tides before their tech fails completely; Calli faces her most grueling trial yet, as she returns to a war-torn eyrie and must assume command in order to keep her Aviar sisters alive; Dash and Vachir maintain their masquerade with the Upgraders and set off on a desperate course to save Dash’s fathers from terrible deaths. The narrative shift means that pacing is handled beautifully, too, as Reese expertly switches POV chapters with each dramatic new development, building tension and excitement with every new chapter.

Most importantly, two central pillars remain constant throughout each character’s alternating point-of-view chapter: the theme of responsibility, and the bond of love and friendship each of these characters share. Responsibility, is one of the major themes that runs throughout the entire trilogy, starting with Aluna’s personal desire to show up her family but growing into a larger realization that the responsibility to drag her people out of a slow death (by failed breathing necklace, by war with the Deepfell, or by stagnation of the reproductive pool) rests on her shoulders. Calli, too, is tested in Horizon – as the daughter of the President of the Aviar, she’s always yearned for her mother’s approval but is more at home with equations and schematics than with fighting and military strategy. With her people under attack and no other leader in sight, though, Calli is forced to confront her self-doubts and rally her people to fight, or die. And Dash, whose story we explored more deeply in Mirage, faces his own personal trial in Horizon as he feels responsibility for the Uplanders who have become his friends, and is desperate to save both of his fathers who have given up so much to try to find their lost son. Running parallel with this theme of responsibility is the strengthening bond of love, because clearly each of these brilliant characters loves their people and their families. More importantly, the bond of friendship that is shared between Aluna, Hoku, Calli and Dash is a beautiful, unshakable constant – even when they are scattered, they are still together, and still a team. I love middle grade novels so much because friendship is such an important component of the category, and Horizon is no exception.

My only quibble when it comes to this last book in the series is that it’s perhaps too rushed. There’s certainly enough meat here to fill two books, and by the end of Horizon, the showdown with (an unexpected) Karl Strand and the culminating rescue/battle is very quickly handled. Similarly, the aftermath of Strand’s war seems very pat and easily resolved, which could have used some elaboration (at least, I wish there was more elaboration!). That said, the book as a single volume does work and I think it makes sense (especially in the middle grade context, even if the book is a shade on the long/busy side).

Ultimately, I loved Horizon very much. The Above World trilogy is among the best middle grade dystopian novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend Aluna and her friends to readers of all ages, be they Kampii, Aviar, Equian, or just plain human.

Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read the full first chapter online HERE.

Rating: 7 – Very Good for Horizon; 8 – Excellent for the series overall

Reading Next: Dawn by Octavia Butler

Buy the Book:

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  • Liviania
    April 28, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I adored Mirage, which I read first, although I then had to go back to read the first book. I’m so excited for this one, and glad to hear it is a satisfying (albeit rushed) conclusion.

  • Anya
    April 28, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    I put Horizon off for months because I wanted to be in the perfect mood for it and didn’t want it to be the end <3 In addition to your great points about responsibility and friendship, I really like how acceptance is woven into so many aspects of this series. I had to read the scene between Aluna and her sister twice when she asked if Aluna was interested in any boys or girls! So much awesomeness here 😀

  • Thea
    April 29, 2014 at 10:17 am

    @Anya – YES! A million times yes. I love the scenes between Aluna and her sister so much, and you’re absolutely right that acceptance plays such an important role in this book and trilogy overall. (I also love the relationship between Calli’s mother, the President, and her second-in-command. And Dash’s fathers. So many excellent relationships in this series!)

    I’m so glad you loved it, too, and I completely empathize with your need to be in the perfect mood for the book. I’m so sad the series is over, but it ended pretty much perfectly.

    @Liviana – I hope you enjoy Horizon as much as the prior two books! Let me know what you think when you get the chance to read this book (I bet you’ll love it).

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