Earth is no longer ours. It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilised yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.
Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.
But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.
For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun…
Whilst it is often the cover of a book that makes the initial grab for my attention, in this book’s case it was John Connolly’s name. Discovering that he’d co-written a new YA science fiction series was enough to make me want to read this book. If I’m being entirely honest it’s a good job the book had his name attached and a great synopsis – that cover art for the paperback version of the book does absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid.
I found the book a little hard to get into initially. The necessary world building is a little wordy, the first chapter feels a lot like that opening sequence found at the beginning of many sci fi movies or tv series (the ones that usually end up being a teacher telling a class their collective history). The world that Connolly and Ridyard have created is an alternative version of our own – in their version an alien race, the Illyri, invaded towards the beginning of the 21st century and the ensuing war has been fought ever since. The Illyri are now in charge, various shows of power and control have forced humanity’s surrender, but it’s an uneasy situation with the Resistance still fighting to regain the Earth from the Illyri’s control. The level of detail that is brought by the plot means that the world building and exposition comes into play throughout the book, I found that the further I got into the book the more seamless this felt – I was glad I’d persisted with the book, the first few chapters made me consider giving up a few times.
Much of this book centres around the power struggle between the Illyri and the Resistance, our main character Syl gets herself entirely embroiled in the battle and we see her personal struggles both for survival and with making sense of the world, she’s been kept away from much of it and taught solely from the Illyri point of view. Mixing with humans leaves here questioning some of what she’s been taught and realising there may be other perspectives to take into account. The book is told from a number of points of view, hers is our primary way into the world – as she learns so to do we the reader.
Syl’s human equivalent is Paul, an up and coming voice in the Resistance. They along with Syl’s best friend Ani and Paul’s younger brother Steven make up the central cast of characters. Around them is an extensive collection of supporting characters, there are many and at times this meant I found I wasn’t quite tracking who everyone was, and what each one meant to who. I’m not generally a fan of character lists at the beginning of books, I don’t want to have to flick back to remind myself who’s who, but in this case I could have done with one. I think perhaps the combination of all of the supporting characters plus all of the specific vocabulary that comes with an alien species may have been a little more information than I could hold in my head simultaneously.
All of that said, I did enjoy the book and once I’d settled into it I was completely invested in finding out what happened next. There’s peril littered throughout the book, at various times I expected to turn the page and find a bloodbath. I cared about the central characters, and about a couple of the supporting characters. Conversely there were other supporting characters I was willing to meet a sticky end, when this happened I was pretty much always satisfied (I could argue a case for a couple of them deserving more gruesome deaths).
There is a romantic element to this book, it draws of course on the forbidden love thing – over the course of the book the relationship between Syl and Paul develops a little and changes. I really liked the way this was gradual, I don’t have the same issues with so-called insta-love that a lot of readers do, but for these characters anything other than a slow, tentative closening would not have felt true to them or to the world in which they live.
This book is the first in a trilogy, it ends not so much with a cliffhanger but more a situation where the various characters the reader has come to care about are pushed in directions that seem hard to reconcile. I have absolutely no idea where the plot of this series is going to go, so many new paths seem to be opening up alongside the number of plot threads not yet resolved. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books and discovering what on earth is going to happen in the long run.
This is a good book, but sadly not a great one. I’m hoping that with much of the world building done the rest of the trilogy will reach the greatness I’d hoped for from this book.
Conquest is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.