Review of Astra – Book 1 of The Gaia Chronicles by Naomi Foyle

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I liked the look of the book cover and scooped it up, thinking it was probably a YA dystopian science fiction adventure along the lines of The Hunger Games trilogy.

Astra is seven years old, and like every child in Is-land, all she wants is to have her Security Shot and defend herastra Gaian homeland – oh, and become a famous scientist. But there’s more to the shot than governing body IMBOD claims. Then Astra’s Shelter mother, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, comes up with a plan to fool the authorities, allowing Astra to avoid the shot. As Astra grows up, so the danger increases. Her perfect world is not all it appears, and if she can’t navigate the web of lies that surrounds her, their deception will cost both Astra and Hokma everything.

As you may have gathered from the blurb, it isn’t YA and this ambitious, thought-provoking take on a dystopian future paints a depressingly credible picture of environmental collapse. However, a small group of eco-followers manage to survive due to having shed most of the conveniences of modern living and as our consumerist culture crumbles, thrive to the extent they are allowed a tract of desert land in exchange for their genetic breakthroughs, enabling food crops and animals to effect a recovery.

Astra lives in this apparently idyllic community where family life has been extended and strengthened by spreading the parental load and most adults and children go around naked, or ‘skyclad’ as they call it. Some of the phrases and words Foyle has made up are a delight, as she shows a world where children are taught sex at school and trained to be kind and co-operative to each other. However, Astra is steadily diverging from the rest of her peers, who were given the injection and she feels less connected with them and a lot more critical about everything going on around her.

Foyle jumps forward a couple of times in this coming-of-age novel and as events go hurtling towards the book’s dramatic conclusion, I couldn’t put it down. Foyle’s decision to start the book with Astra as a child gives her the opportunity to explore aspects of the community and ponder its history for the benefit of the reader without appearing overly naïve – but that only works if her depiction is convincing. It is. Astra is an interesting protagonist, particularly as she is earmarked to be different and special by her adoptive mother and then becomes so for all the wrong reasons. I like the fact she is prone to fly off the handle and become unreasonable – young teens often do.
What this book doesn’t offer is foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action as it gradually builds to the climax, but it has certainly wormed its way into my head – I find myself thinking of Astra and her community at all sorts of odd times – and I will definitely be tracking down Rook Song, the second book in the series, in 2016.
9/10

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