Last summer, I had the honor of being a first reader of our friend Cidney Swanson’s Saving Mars. It was one of my favorite books of the year, and the reviewers over at Kirkus agreed with me, naming it one of the best books of 2012. In early December, Cidney asked me to be a first reader again, this time for the second book in the series, Defying Mars. I immediately said, "Yes!" Though I loved the book, I wanted to wait until I had time to do it justice before featuring it in a Book Spotlight, and that, unfortunately, took months. This post has been a long time coming, so let’s get to it!
Jessamyn Jaarda has just returned home to Mars Colonial with enough ration bars to sustain her planet into the next generation. Those rations came with a high price, though: She was forced to leave three of her crew, including her alter-abled brother, Ethan, on Earth. Jess wants nothing more than to mount a rescue mission as soon as possible. Mars Colonial Command denies her request, however, claiming that such a mission would exacerbate growing political unrest. Desperate, Jess and her remaining crewmate, Crusty, join forces with the brother of their lost captain to make up the crew for their forbidden return mission, but when treachery is revealed, Jess must literally fly solo in a craft that might not be spaceworthy. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the left-behind Mars Raiders have been separated. Ethan has been re-bodied and gone on the lam with Pavel, nephew of the Terran Chancellor, attempting to reunite with the other Raiders and complete the transfer of the Terran surveillance satellites to Mars Colonial Command.
Gems for Writers:
World-Building. It’s no secret that I’m a great admirer of Cidney Swanson’s world-building, but in this book she reminded me of just how many different types of world-building exist. Whereas the first book in the series established what it would take to sustain human life on Mars, this book thoroughly explores the political structure of Mars Colonial as well as that of the Terran government. The reader learns of both political unrest and warring factions on Mars, as well as dark secrets about the Terran government. Not only does this make the world all the more complete and believable; it also makes the book compulsively readable.
Heroine as Art Form. Jess is an unforgettable heroine and she quickly made the list of my all-time favorite characters. In the first book, she grew as a character and became more mature, and the reader is able to see that growth come into play in this story. Jess is able to put aside her worry and self-recrimination in order to plead her case to Mars Colonial Command, and, when denied, she is still brave enough to follow her gut in defiance of orders. Jess is the kind of character I absolutely adore, with the perfect balance of maturity and spitfire that enables her to throw away the rule book in order to do what she knows is right.
The Cultures of Settings. I have said this in many previous Book Spotlights, but it bears repeating: Setting is so very much more than just physical descriptions of places. There are many avenues to explore in developing a setting, and cultural details of a setting rank high on my list of favorites. Defying Mars actually has several settings—Mars Colonial and the assorted places where Ethan and Pavel hide out while on the run. Marsian mourning traditions are explained in context when Jess returns without three of her crew. Likewise, Ethan and Pavel find shelter in a remote settlement on Earth and witness various customs there, including a coming-of-age ritual. All of these details make the settings brim with lives of their own, making the line between reality and imagination blur—and inducing states of euphoric bliss in the reader.
Defying Mars is a thrilling continuation of the Saving Mars Series. The elaborate world established in the first book is further defined; the characters continue to grow and become more lifelike; and the phenomenal plotting keeps the reader turning the pages. I’m so thankful the third book is already on my Kindle, because I cannot wait to read it.
Fair Winds, Fresh Ink, and Happy Scribing to all!
***Defying Mars (2012), by Cidney Swanson, is published by and copyright Williams Press. It is available in stores, online (see above), and from your local public library.