Title: Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published: April 2019 and April 2020
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Category: Young adult, science fiction, space opera
Following their bestselling trilogy The Illuminae Files, Australian powerhouses Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff turn the world upside down in their newest series, The Aurora Cycle. Here, they bring us ‘not the heroes we wanted, just the ones we could find’.
The year is 2380. Space cadet Tyler Jones ends up stuck in a squad not of his choosing – including two alien boys Kal and Fin, scientist Zila, best friend Cat and his sister Scarlett. They head off on their first mission, only to find a stowaway, Aurora. They are suddenly on the run, and find themselves young, unsure and struggling to find answers.
Things start to make more sense in Aurora Burning and the squad finds a tenuous footing, where they understand and respect each other, maybe even like each other.
One incredible side to The Aurora Cycle is representation. The characters work to understand and respect each other. Even in a world completely made up, Kaufman and Kristoff bring current issues to mind. There are the obvious ones like war, genocide and discrimination, but there are also more subtle ones – the way sexualities are expressed but not questioned, the way cultural differences are respectfully navigated, the way Fin tries not to let his chronic pain show, and the way the others subtly try to help him. This should be the standard in all new fiction.
In both novels Kaufman and Kristoff effortlessly create a sense of adventure and suspense while bouncing between multiple points of view. The voices of each character are unique, including 200-year-old Aurora and Magellan, a sentient computer. With the witty dialogue and a dangerously intriguing plotline the pages turn themselves.
Aurora Rising is the wild, banter-filled adventure that Kaufman and Kristoff are known for. Even with mega world-building the pace doesn’t stop and it’s easy to fall in love with all the characters and get hooked on the drama.
Aurora Burning, the second in the trilogy, faces the problem so many second books do - how to get to the grand finale at the end of the trilogy? While the plot speeds up the enticing magic of the first book – such as the humour of Magellan – doesn’t quite keep up. Where in the first book the connection between their setbacks flowed well, in Aurora Burning the problems plaguing the characters seem to repeat. They are stuck physically and emotionally in place, and when the stakes are so high this can become frustrating. Banter between the characters is replaced by internal monologues, and the reader may well find themselves missing the comic relief of Aurora Rising.
The saving graces of Aurora Burning are the questions raised and questions answered. Kaufman and Kristoff cleverly balance this, keeping readers satisfied with information while still wanting, even needing, to know more. In Aurora Burning we revisit members of the squad we haven’t spent much time with. Zila comes to the fore, revealing a lot of her past in an emotional chapter, and Kal’s and Aurora’s pasts are revealed too. It seems when fans ask, as you can see all over Kaufman and Kristoff’s social media, the authors deliver. Of course, there is a spectacular cliff-hanger at the end, ensuring that you simply must read on to book three.
Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi or not, The Aurora Cycle is worth a read. It draws you in to a new world and is a testament to great YA storytelling. With danger, romance, and the whole galaxy at stake, how could you not read this entire space opera?
Reviewed by Aleksandra Stapmanns, a student in RMIT University’s Associate Degree of Writing and Editing as part of the RMIT Reviews series.