I honestly haven’t been this disappointed in a book I was extremely excited for in so long. The Other Side of the Sky disappointed me so much, in fact, that I’m kind of angry I wasted time reading it. This book had such a brilliant premise, too. Which is why it kind of kills me that I spent half my time with it massively annoyed. I’ll give Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner this much: their characters are very realistic. I just couldn’t stand how stupid the majority of them were.
Magic vs. Religion
I love stories about magic. Always have. I don’t mind stories with religion, but they certainly aren’t my favorite. But I think my biggest problem with this book is that Kaufman and Spooner were never once clear on whether or not the religion in this novel was real. The fact that I am still uncertain on this point really irks me.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
In essence, when things on the surface of this world grew difficult, due to impressive scientific advancement a subsection of the populace used technology to lift islands up into the sky. They abandoned the people living on the ground and eventually forgot about them. As far as they knew, the people were long dead. Alternately, those left to continue their lives below, forgot all about technology but never once forgot about the people who ascended into the sky. Of course, losing their understanding of science left them to fall to religion for answers.
Instead of seeing the sky people as subsets of their ancestor’s populace, they grew to view them as gods. Lack of understanding for their world resulted in belief in magic. Anything they could not explain thus became so. And though the “gods” had all escaped to the sky, one living “god” remained below to take care of them. Well, for all intents and purposes the current living god is Nimhara.
Later, the Prince of the technologically run land in the sky–North–has a malfunction with his glider and plummets back to the ground. Nimhara, attempting to decipher the meaning of a long passed down prophesy, witnesses his fall. Upon meeting, she immediately determines he must be a god and thus part of the prophesy.
So, the loss of technological understanding results in “magic.” This seems to basically just be code for science the people don’t understand and therefore call magic. At the same time, though, Kaufman and Spooner give conflicting messages on this. On the one hand, they regularly put forth science-like explanations for the so-called magic. On the other, occasionally they make it seem as though it actually is magic. This muddled way in which they never really took a stance on the matter genuinely infuriated me.
What’s worse is that the single character who did have some understanding of technology regularly waffled as well. North’s entire understanding of the world made it very clear to me what stance he should take. That stance was reinforced on numerous occasions. Every time he interacted with a new piece of technology, it was very much implied that was exactly what it was. Meanwhile, there’s Nimh so utterly certain in her beliefs that she spent the majority of the book trying to persuade North that he was a moron. He simply needed to believe in her magic, destiny, and so-called divinity, as far as she was concerned.
Nevermind that left and right the authors were throwing in whatever they could to debunk her entire faith. Half of what she thought she knew turned out to be a lie in the end. To further the horribleness of it all, Nimh wasn’t even the only character operating on some belief that would eventually be debunked. There were so many of them. What good is this religion if it’s being picked apart at every turn?
So, then, perhaps this is a commentary about science over religion. And, for all intents and purposes, that’s kind of what it seemed like the book would be. A lot of the material throughout suggested as much. And honestly, this is a story that I can get behind. I rather feel as though it’s indicative of a truth about the world as a whole and love that someone would think to write about it.
But…Kaufman and Spooner floundered with this idea. You see, because North spent the book certain that Nimh simply didn’t know any better. He was certain for much of the story that she was using some form of science despite believing and claiming it was magic. Again, technology showed up time and time again to further prove his certainty. And yet, for some unfathomable reason, he actually started to believe in magic near the end of it?
I don’t think he ever started to belief Nimh was truly a “goddess,” since such a suggestion would make him a “god.” And at least on that much, he knew better. I’ll say that it’s respectable that he was considerate to Nimh’s beliefs, of course. Still, why have him start believing out of nowhere for no reason? He’s a child of science. When all the evidence pointed toward the religion being a farce, why did he then waver?
Conflict (and Evidence)
So, the main conflict of the novel is kind of where I feel everything went downhill for me. I think I could have liked this book had it taken a stance on the religion/magic vs. science thing. Obviously, I lean science. I don’t think I’d have minded if there was something to the magic aspect, so long as it was handled well. I find the “gods” piece more difficult. This is somewhat because that very idea suggests the people in the sky are gods. But the book makes it very clear that they are not. At the same time, it could have been kind of fascinating for the gods to have forgotten themselves, too.
That said, the technology piece really kind of negates that as a possibility.
With the arrival of the main conflict and antagonist, I literally felt as though I was reading a book about a bunch of ignorant fools all making incredibly dumb decisions because they forgot about science. They lost their ability to think critically and ask questions, deciding instead to simply accept magic and divine right as an answer. They wasted their time on prophesy and destiny rather than the more important struggles at hand.
And the people suffered for it.
Death and Destruction
While all this other nonsense is going on, there’s this mist. The mist is incredibly dangerous–and for a time seemed like some sort of weather-based pollution–to the point that it maims, deforms, and sometimes kills the people. When kept properly, a special steel protects the people from the mist. Unfortunately, it has been deteriorating with time.
Thus a great many villages are in danger of falling to the mist. One village is even subjected to a huge massacre. And what are the supposed “heroes” of this story doing as this is happening?
Instead of focusing on the important detail of protecting everyone from this dangerous mist, the characters all fight over a prophesy and whose destiny it is to “destroy and remake” the world. Nimhara’s supposed to be a goddess, sworn to protect and serve her people. Yet, somehow chasing after a random prophesy and finding one’s destiny is the central focus of all the key players’ minds. These characters even spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince others of their own idiocy. What’s worse is that the science-related character often lost pathetically in every debate he started, despite having more evidence than the rest.
And people die.
It’s funny, because at this point I haven’t even discussed any of the minor plots in this novel. One of the most fascinating was that of Jezara’s story. I loved everything she added to the novel. There was so much depth to it, thus resulting in Inshara being perhaps the most tragic character of all. I loved the role that these two played. At the same time, though, both Inshara and Nimhara’s stupidity was astounding.
Ultimately, I’ve waffled back and forth on whether to give this book a 2-star or 3-star rating for a long time. It’s been inordinately difficult to figure out what this book deserves.
Unfortunately, I’ve arrived at the final consensus that I do not have enough information yet to determine the book’s value as a whole. My final rating depends entirely upon what Kaufman and Spooner do with Nimhara and the religion/magic system of this book. TOnly one path would make me okay with the sheer idiocy and baiting that The Other Side of the Sky is drenched in.
I have no way of knowing for certain whether that is the path they will take. Thus, until this book has a sequel, I couldn’t tell you whether this is a 2- or a 3- star read.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.