Aurora Burning (2020), the second book in Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s young adult SF AURORA CYCLE series, follows the tension-filled, nonstop space adventures of the teenage crew of Squad 312, recent graduates of the Aurora Academy. In the first book, Aurora Rising, the crew visited the forbidden planet of Octavia III and discovered, to their horror, that an alien hivemind, called the Ra’haam, has taken over the planet and is bent, Borg-like, on assimilating all intelligent life in the galaxy (or, perhaps, more like the group consciousness alien in Isaac Asimov’s “Misbegotten Missionary,” aka “Green Patches”). In fact, the Ra’haam have already infiltrated the command of the Global Intelligence Agency.
Now the six remaining members of the Longbow’s crew are regrouping after losing one of their members to the Ra’haam and barely escaping Octavia III. As Tyler and Scarlett Jones try to sell their Longbow in a lawless space station, they see a media broadcast blaming their crew for a massacre of thousands of people. Instantly the crew is on the run again, trying to evade both the local crime gangs and the infected GIA agents who are trying to recapture Auri, their crewmate who has been gifted with some supernatural powers by another race of aliens who fought the Ra’haam long ago … powers that she hasn’t learned to control at all yet.
Life for Tyler and his crew only gets more exciting — in a not-so-stupendous way — when the sister of Kai (another crew member) tracks him down to insist that Kai rejoin their ultra-violent Syldrathi Warbreed Cabal. You know, the group responsible for blowing up the Syldrathi planet’s sun and killing ten billion of their people, led by the man called Starslayer. But the members of Squad 312 are determined to save the galaxy from the Ra’haam threat, even if the galaxy is being uncooperative.
Aurora Burning is a jet-propelled space adventure for young adult readers, as Tyler, Scarlett, Auri, Kai, Finian and Zila scramble from one crisis to the next. In the process, Auri finds out more about her powers as the Trigger who has the ability to stop the Ra’haam threat, her boyfriend Kai finds that it’s not so easy to escape his past as part of a Syldrathi Warbreed family, and Tyler gets up close and personal with Kai’s hardcore sister Saedii and her monstrous drakkan, a dragon-like beast that has all the odds in its favor when Tyler is forced into a death match with it. There are also some unexpectedly poignant flashbacks to Zila’s past, clarifying why she works so hard to suppress all her feelings.
In most ways, I liked Aurora Burning even better than Aurora Rising. The snarky humor is still present, but balanced by deeper emotions and insights into the pasts and the motivations of the crew. The plot felt a lot more cohesive and original, and there are a few fantastic twists of the kind I like: unexpected but consistent with the overall plot. And I was completely enthralled by some mysterious gifts that the crew receives from some secret helpers — bizarre but helpful gifts that seem to indicate that someone, somewhere, is either time-traveling or foreseeing their future. It’s a fascinating plot element and I can’t wait to get the full explanation for it.
On the flip side, I was never all that convinced by Auri’s and Kai’s romance, though it plays a central role in the plot, or by the crew’s overreaction (in my opinion) to a surprising and highly negative fact that surfaces very late in the story. I simply couldn’t believe that they would all react the way they did. And son of a biscuit (Auri’s favorite expression), Aurora Burning might just have the worst cliffhanger in the entire history of the universe. Kaufman and Kristoff must have worked really hard to come up with a cliffhanger of that scope and magnitude. It’s almost impressive, if I didn’t find it so vexing.
With or without maddening cliffhangers, I’m still definitely on board for book three of the AURORA CYCLE. It’s a fun, action-packed series and the books are quick reads that are hard to put down.