Astra – The Gaia Chronicles #1 – Naomi Foyle
Release date: February 6th, 2014
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Like every child in Is-Land, all Astra Ordott wants is to have her Security Shot, do her National Service and defend her Gaian homeland from Non-Lander ‘infiltrators’. But when one of her Shelter mothers, the formidable Dr Hokma Blesser, tells her the shot will limit her chances of becoming a scientist and offers her an alternative, Astra agrees to her plan.
When the orphaned Lil arrives to share Astra’s home, Astra is torn between jealousy and fascination. Lil’s father taught her some alarming ideas about Is-Land and the world, but when she pushes Astra too far, the heartache that results goes far beyond the loss of a friend.
If she is to survive, Astra must learn to deal with devastating truths about Is-Land, Non-Land and the secret web of adult relationships that surrounds her.
I didn’t really know what I could expect from Astra when I started the book. I knew it would probably have something to do with Biosciences, which I’m involved in in my studies, so I thought it would definitely resonate with me. I went through Astra slowly, because it’s quite a ‘heavy’ story. Don’t expect an action-packed page-turner or anything like that, this is a story that connects with its readers on a deeper level.
I really liked the structure of the book, which is split up in three parts, taking us through Astra’s life as she grows up. I immediately loved Astra as a character. We get to know her as a young girl full of energy and curiosity, who is very interested in the world she’s growing up in.
The author has created an interesting culture here. At first glance it looks like a rather primitive culture, but when you continue reading you find out that they are actually very advanced on a technological level. To give an example of this apparent contrast: in Orr, where Astra lives, most people don’t wear any clothes, or at least as little as possible. They live in harmony with nature, see themselves as creatures of Gaia and every animal or plant is also a creature of Gaia, that has to be respected. This is why they refuse to kill animals for food and the community is in general very focused on the biological aspect of life.
At the same time, some of their gates/doors are secured by fingerprint recognition, everyone has a personal tablet which functions as some sort of companion, where children can draw on or make exercises for school. To compensate for the fact that they don’t kill animals for their food, they breed Alt-food. Where we breed animals for mass consumption, they actually make the ‘meat’ itself.
The Code that is put in the plants or the Alt-meat is very important in this book. You can kind of see it as some advanced biotechnology. I thought it was really intriguing to see how the biotech was used in this story, especially because people nowadays are still kind of suspicious about anything biotech related. In this book we can see a different future with biotech, a very positive future.
Of course this future didn’t just come into existence out of nowhere. People in Astra’s world had slowly destroyed the planet (sound familiar?). The people in Is-land made it their goal to reintroduce plants and animals in the environment and work towards a healthy planet again. That’s also why the whole community is so focused on nature, they don’t want to lose their world a second time.
Then there’s the Security Shot. Astra is supposed to get it, just like all the other children her age. However, her Shelter-Mother, a scientist, fears what the Sec Shot would do to Astra’s personality and devises a plan to make sure she isn’t injected. This has an obvious impact on Astra’s life and then Lil arrives. An orphan who has survived in the woods, Lil is nothing like the other children in the community. For Astra, who feels very different as well because of the Sec Shot she didn’t get, this is the start of a fascinating stage in her life. At first, Astra is far from pleased with this new addition to her life, but soon enough the two girls form a bond that goes deeper than they would have expected at first. I loved reading about Lil and Astra. Their relationship is so real and pure. They are both still young when they meet, which gives Astra a companion to explore life with and everything that entails.
Astra is a very special, bold book. Because of that it might not appeal to every reader out there, but anyone who appreciates a social post-apocalyptic SciFi story packed with emotions will love it.