At first, Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard reminded me of a blend of Gene Roddenberry’s Earth; the Final Conflict, and the history of the Roman Empire. The Roddenberry sense comes from the descriptions of the aliens who conquer Earth; tall, slender and graceful, some with shaven heads, and a melodic, trilling name, the Illyri. By the second chapter, though, I felt firmly grounded in Roman conquest, as Andrus, the Illyri governor of Earth, and his primary general discuss an attack at an Illyri fortress, presumably by the human Resistance. The “Roman outpost” feeling is helped along by the settings, first Edinburgh and later the Scottish Highlands.
The Illyri adults we follow in this YA adventure have a nagging sense of something rotten back at the heart of the Empire, through the wormhole on the home planet of Illyr. Certainly balances of power have shifted over the past few years, but there is something even darker and more sinister as play. Four young people, two human resistance fighters and two sheltered Illyri daughters, will uncover that secret as the story progresses.
Conquest seems to start slowly, even if there is a bombing and a military suicide in the second chapter. Syl, Andrus’s daughter, is introduced then too, but we are about forty pages in before the story takes off. Syl and her friend Ani sneak out of the heavily guarded Edinburgh castle on Syl’s birthday, disguised as humans. They meet two human boys and narrowly escape becoming the victims of another bombing. The two boys, Paul and his brother Steven, insist to the shaken girls that the human Resistance did not plant the bombs. They should know; both boys are Resistance fighters. Paul and Steven are on a mission, and make a disturbing find. Meanwhile, Syl and Ani, returning to the castle, learn that powerful visitors have come from the home-world, including Syrene, the Archmage of the powerful and secretive Nairene Sisterhood. Andrus does not trust the Sisterhood or those who support it, including the Illyrian Grand Consul, Gradus:
“But Gradus and his kind are so convinced of their superiority that every race but our own appears inconsequential to them. He has not even troubled himself to visit Earth. He sits in the palace of a dead king, listening to the whispering of witches.”
When Peter and Steven are captured and framed for the bombings, Syl risks her life and standing helping them escape. From there, the story unfolds and grows more complex, as the reader learns more about Governor Andrus’s enemies, what certain Illyri are really doing to humans, and the natures of both Illyri and humans. The villains are truly villainous, and the heroes have secrets. My favorite character is Meia, Governor Andrus’s primary intelligence operative. Meia’s origins are unusual, and her motives go beyond mere loyalty to the Governor.
For YA, this is a pretty long book, about 400 pages, but after the opening the pace never flagged. Things look bleak for our young heroes at the end, but there is still plenty of hope, as they pledge to carry the battle to the enemy. With Syl, in particular, we see character growth as she explores her own abilities and makes adult sacrifices in order to do the right thing.
In the quiet moments, the books makes interesting comments about people, like this observation about Steven:
Steven would never be a leader, and he did not want to lead, but he would grow up to be the kind of man leaders upon whom leaders relied.
Conquest opens the way for a thoughtful discussion about empires and conquest, but it’s also a cracking good story, with plenty in place for the next book in the series. Connolly and Ridyard manage to create a large canvas and still give us a personal story with lots of action and suspense. It’s a good one.
Earth has been conquered by the Illyri, a beautiful and superior alien race. While the Illyri have solved many of Earth’s problems by sharing their advanced medicine and technology, many humans still chafe at being dominated by even such benevolent rulers. The Resistance movement is becoming more active and bombings are frequent. It’s no longer safe for Syl, daughter of the Illyri governor, to be out without a guard in the capital city. Yet out she sneaks on her birthday, accompanied by her best friend, Ani. When the girls befriend a couple of boys from the Resistance army, each of their lives is changed, and so is the relationship between the humans and their occupiers.
Conquest is a welcome addition to the YA bookshelves. While there are certainly some too-familiar elements here (e.g., a powerful group of women that are awfully similar to the Bene Gesserit), at least they are the elements I’d prefer to see in young adult fiction over, say, angsty teenage vampires, oppressive boarding schools, titillating love triangles, and all the various brands of dystopia we’ve been exposed to in the last few years.
Conquest is decidedly more grown up. The novel isn’t simply about humans vs. aliens because there are good guys and bad guys on both sides and, frankly, the reader must wonder if perhaps humans are better off being ruled by a beautiful alien race than being left to ourselves. After all, we haven’t done such a great job of it so far.Conquest features plenty of character development, political intrigue and complex ethical issues. The teens have the difficult task of deciding when to trust their elders and when to take matters into their own hands. They must also wrangle with the moral implications of lying, disloyalty to the government, guerilla warfare, and colonialism.
In some ways Conquest didn’t quite meet its potential. The writing style is slightly dull, sometime relying on expository dumps and never reaching a level I’d call “lovely,” which is just a bit disappointing. Also, in the end the authors make it easy for us to choose sides. I would have preferred for that particular dissonance to go on a little longer. But these are minor complaints. Mostly I was entertained by the story.
Conquest is the first book in the CHRONICLES OF THE INVADERS saga and there are a couple of big reveals and twists at the end. I certainly want to know what happens next.
I listened to the audiobook version of Conquest. It was narrated by Nicola Barber and produced by Simon & Schuster audio. Barber has a lovely British accent and is a pleasure to listen to.
The Chronicles of the Invaders — (2014-2016) Publisher: The first in a stunning new science fiction trilogy, Conquest introduces a world where humanity has been conquered by a powerful alien rulership—unless a group of young rebels can unlock their powers and help rescue humankind from its terrible fate. Earth has been invaded by the Illyri—a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien race. The Resistance grows stronger against the invaders, for it is up to the young people of the Earth to lead the battle and save humanity. Syl Hellais, conceived among the stars, is the oldest alien child on Earth. The daughter of one of the planet’s rulers, she has hidden gifts and powers that she does yet fully understand. But all is not as it seems. Secret experiments are being conducted on humans, the Illyri are at war among themselves, and the sinister Nairene Sisterhood has arrived on Earth, hungry for new blood. When Syl helps a pair of young fighters escape execution, she finds herself sentenced to death and pursued by her own kind. Soon, she even risks breaking the greatest taboo of her race by falling in love with a human. Now the hunter has become the hunted, and the predators have become prey. And as Syl is about to learn, the real invasion is yet to begin…