It has been many generations since the Vitium War. In the ruins of what was once Appalachia, the population has split into three groups—upworlders who live in sparse, walled off cities, albino cave dwellers, and a group of savage nomads called the Wylden. Then there’s Erilyn—a telekinetic 17-year-old girl who can see auras and hear thoughts. For three years she lived a quiet, calm life in the woods with Luna, her albino serval cat, until the day Finn—an upworld boy from Sunnybrook—stumbles, injured, into her clearing, chased by Wylden hunters. Erilyn’s once calm life is turned upside down as she guardedly travels with Finn back to Sunnybrook. There she must confront both the secrets of her past—the cave dwellers she ran from as a child and the bittersweet memories she daily tries to forget—and Morrigan, the girl who broke Finn’s heart and who’s harboring her own a dangerous secret.
In alternating chapters told in Erilyn and Finn’s voices, in a style similar to Veronica Rossi, Frantz explores segregated societies and how vitium—the product of hundreds of years of pollution—affects this post-war world, which has startling parallels to our present
Lindsey S. Frantz started her first novel, The Upworld, with a firm hook. The prolgoue immediately emerses the reader into the world of her main protagonist, Erilyn. From the very start, it is clear that this character has power and passion and that she is a survivor. Erilyn chooses to live in seclusion save for the company of her Savannah Cat, Luna, who Erilyn has cared for since she was a kitten. Because the first part of Erilyn’s life is spent in a cave, there is an open invitation to fascinate the reader with the smallest details of what she calls “The Upworld”. Frantz spins a world of sparkling trees and dancing grasses with artful scene structure.
The reader’s introduction to Frantz’s secondary protagonist, Finn, is an immediate heartbreak, and his painful severance from what was clearly an abusive relationship. His discovery of Erilyn, her ability, and her past, reveals a great deal about her character before they begin their travels together. Upon arriving back in Finn’s home village, a mystery begins to unfold, and a raw resource, which Frantz has named Vitium, opens the window to the overarching plot of Frantz’s projected trilogy.
The Upworld has strong female characters abound: Morrigan, Emily, and Erilyn among them. While Morrigan seems a prime example of raw force and sheer power of will, Erilyn’s power remains mostly in her diplomacy and passivity. All the while, Emily is young, brave, compassionate, and the image of the perfect friend. By the end of the book, three clear factions have been established, and more action is on the rise, made evident by an enticing epilogue.
Frantz carries an Appalachian voice into her story, marking the much loved Cumberland, Kentucky as her main setting. Twists, turns, and mystery drive the plotline. The book is clean and has well defined emotional conflict with intention to appeal to young readers, but there are nuances to the story that speak to adult audiences as well. There is one particular character that felt a bit tacked on toward the end of the story, but other than that, Frantz’s character development is genuine, and the suspense leading into the sequel is palpable. The novel was a page turner, and is a great read for fans of dystopian fantasy.
Frantz nailed five stars.