When we last checked in on them, the misfit Aurora Legion Squad 312 was on the run, knowing the horrifying truth – the gestalt organism known as the Ra’haam is about to consume the galaxy, and Aurora might be the only way of stopping it. Also, they lost one of their number to the Ra’haam, meaning that that person is effectively dead. And they’ve been framed for mass murder.
So yes, it is technically possible for things to get worse, but it would take careful consideration and a lot of effort. Well, guess what: in Aurora Burning, the second book of the Aurora Cycle, things manage to get worse. Authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff keep things humming along with plenty of crackling action and the occasional twist and turn, but the romantic subplot just doesn’t click with me.
Squad 312 are barely surviving – they’re being hunted by just about everybody for the massive bounty on their heads, and Auri accidentally destroys the Longbow with her newfound powers. So they have no vehicle, very little money, and they’re being empathically tracked by Kal’s vicious sister Saedii. But then they receive a coded message that leads to a secret cache of mystery packages, and a secret ship. An incredibly ugly, rust-encrusted run-down ship, but that’s better than nothing.
But this ship is pretty baffling, because it was somehow perfectly set up for the team’s specific needs… eight years before. And somehow they knew Cat was not going to be on the team. And all the packages have odd items whose functions aren’t immediately apparent. Oh, the mystery deepens.
However, their first effort – getting back to the ship where Auri slept for two hundred years – brings them into the hands of the Syldrathi Unbroken, and then into a conflict with the Ra’haam-led Terran forces. With an all-out war brewing, the squad finds themselves divided like never before, with new and shocking secrets coming out on every side. Worst of all, the only hope for the galaxy is in very, very wrong hands.
The first two-thirds of Aurora Burning feels like a fairly standard middle novel, further exploring Kaufman and Kristoff’s universe, but the third part feels like a massive buildup to the climactic third volume. The Ra’haam and the GIA are still important threats, but this time the conflict with the Syldrathi Unbroken takes center stage for most of the plot, only to tie back into the Ra’haam plot near the end. There are some genuinely surprising twists thrown into the mix – some all the more surprising because the entire novel is told in alternating first-person perspective – which upend how you have seen the characters you thought you knew, and explanations for things that were previously unknown.
My biggest problem with the novel is much the same one I had with Aurora Rising: the romantic relationship between Auri and Kal just doesn’t click with me. It’s clearly meant to be the emotional core of the story, but it felt artificial compared to the other personal relationships that the crew exhibits, and it will probably rub readers the wrong way if they’re not into compelled insta-love.
But it does expand on the characters we thought we knew – Kal, Zila, Scar and Tyler – giving us new information that explains how they became who they are, and then develops them further. One will learn how to feel things, one will be trapped with an enemy he’ll start to understand, and one will lose what he loves most. Fin doesn’t really have any earthshattering revelations, but he is a thoroughly likable little guy – he struggles mightily with his disability, uncomplaining and determined to keep his squad safe, while sometimes ogling a few of his squadmates.
As I mentioned before, Kaufman and Kristoff tell the story in alternating perspectives, and they do a pretty good job reflecting the different personalities – the sexy, irreverent Scar, serious and dutiful Tyler, emotionally repressed Zila, and the quirky bisexual Fin. There’s a considerable amount of comedy woven into the first half of the novel (Scar leading Kal around on a leash), but things grow grimmer as the squad is dragged into the midst of a brewing war, and Aurora becomes enmeshed in the aeons-old battle against the Ra’haam.
One warning, though: it has a cliffhanger. A big cliffhanger. You have been warned.
Aurora Burning feels like a slow-burn middle-novel in this trilogy, but it also has some riveting twists and powerful character development. And yes, it will leave you craving whatever comes next.