By the end of the 28th century, Mankind has travelled to and transformed numerous distant planets, using a network of portals to colonise other worlds. This process was nothing less than a mass exodus from Earth, leaving most of its cities to be reclaimed by nature and the elements, becoming little more than objects of study for generations of archaeologists and historians. The only permanent inhabitants are those who have no choice – the handicapped, widely known as Apes, who cannot function beyond Earth and if born on another planet must return to Earth within minutes to avoid death. It is not assumed that their parents would wish to accompany them. One of these Apes is Jarra Tell Morrath, the 18 year old Earth Girl and archaeological student we were so memorably introduced to by Janet Edwards last year. If you haven’t read Earth Girl, please do read it first.
It is somewhat ironic in these days of space colonisation that the first evidence of intelligent alien life ever to be discovered should be found hovering above the skies of Earth. When the planet goes into an emergency lockdown, Jarra and her non-Ape partner Fian, with whom she has a formal ‘Twoing’ contract, are whisked away from their classroom and called up into the military. While this is a repercussion of events of the previous novel, there are also other reasons why Jarra should swiftly rise through the military ranks. It isn’t long, though, before Jarra is called upon to use her archaeological skills on the dangerous, ruined and neglected surface of Earth to uncover the significance of this alien visit. She has to draw on all of those wonderful qualities that we have come to love in our young heroine but most especially courage.
Earth Girl was not only one of my favourite novels of 2012, it was also my favourite Young Adult novel of that year. Janet Edwards has created a completely plausible, hugely likeable and realistically flawed teenage girl. She speaks like a teenager – albeit one from the future (slang and swear words have changed – remember not to say ‘nuke’ in polite company) – and she acts like one. In this second novel (of a trilogy), Jarra is much more confident, with her lies in the past and now surrounded by friends, able to rise above the prejudice of those who aren’t. She is in love with Fian and he is with her and although there is a certain amount of angst between them it’s not gratuitous and its not unsolvable. Jarra has to confront some very real phobias in Earth Star and her bravery in the face of them is moving and real.
In addition to fascinating supporting characters (I love Playdon, the instructor who, it turns out here, has some other secret talents), the world that Janet Edwards has created is vivid and colourful. The ruins of the cities are brilliantly described, as are the futuristic habitats that people move in. We see little of life on other planets because Jarra is Earthbound but although the world is ravaged by nature it isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Animals are thriving, mixing in places with animals from other planets, and while they can be dangerous, they can also be beautiful. I particularly liked how the Earth of the past is a fascinating subject for future people. Much technology and knowledge has been lost. Jarra and her companions are trying to unearth it, just as archaeologists today might do, albeit with some amazing and potentially deadly tools.
This future Earth has prejudice and danger but it also has its Edens and Arks and while many parents abandon their ‘handicapped’ babies others do not. There is a strong potential for a happy ending in this dystopian world, with Jarra herself responsible for some of the changes in attitude, and this is reflected in the humour and personality of the wonderful heroine and her relationship with Fian.
The plot of Earth Star is almost secondary but it is a good one. The enigma of the mysterious alien vessel is a great accompaniment to the story of Jarra. She might be Earthbound but in this fabulous novel, the universe is coming to her. Janet Edwards is to be applauded for producing a second novel that is every bit as good as her outstanding debut novel Earth Girl. I loved every page.