Aetherbound by E. K. Johnston

E.K. Johnston’s latest young adult novel Aetherbound is a gripping science fiction tale that transports readers to an eerie cosmic future.

Pendt Harland has lived on board her family’s space cruiser for a lonely eighteen years, rejected by her aunt, the captain of the ship, because her genes don’t serve the ship in a desirable way. Her mother, siblings, and cousins all follow the captain’s lead, treating Pendt as nothing more than a waste of space.

“Whenever I had to step away from Aetherbound, I found myself itching to get back to it.”

Wanting to explore her suppressed magical abilities and escape her family’s torment, Pendt risks everything and escapes during a routine pit stop. She meets Ned and Fisher, brothers and heirs to the family that runs the space station, and together they hatch a complicated life-threatening scheme to take control of their destinies.

Whenever I had to step away from Aetherbound, I found myself itching to get back to it. Johnston’s writing is clear and engaging, and the characters she has created are torn between conflicting desires to do right by those around them and to control their own futures. I was rooting for Ned, Fisher, and Pendt in different ways—yet their stories are linked so closely.

The original magical system in the novel is the highlight for me. It focuses on genetic mutations that allow people to connect to the powerful aether in different ways. Need work done on your space ship’s engine? You’ll have to find an electrical mage. Need to steer the ship in a certain direction? Find someone with star-sense. Pendt, our heroine, is a gene-mage and can alter genetic makeup at will, but requires a significant amount of energy to do so.

The history of the Stavenger Empire, also known as the Hegemony, is interspersed throughout the novel in short excerpts, adding layers to Pendt’s story and shaping her past and future. The Stavenger Empire is like a silent villain throughout the story, looming over our beloved characters’ shoulders. It’s a threatening presence, one that governs every decision they make.

Where the novel falls short is with its pacing. It was slow in some moments, providing unnecessarily lengthy passage of backstory, and oddly rushed in others. I wanted to savour Pendt’s story, so when Johnston jumped ahead by days or even months, I was disheartened. Pendt’s story is not the fast-paced space adventure I expected, but I still wanted to relish the action taken and the decisions made. The gaps in the story also left me with some questions, but the ending indicates there may be a sequel planned, in which case those questions may be answered in a future book. I hope that is the case.

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Fans of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James and, of course, E.K. Johnston’s many novels will enjoy this galactic story.


E. K. Johnston is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of several YA novels, including the L.A. Time Book Prize finalist The Story of Owen and Star Wars: Ahsoka. Her novel A Thousand Nights was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. The New York Times called The Story of Owen “a clever first step in the career of a novelist who, like her troubadour heroine, has many more songs to sing” and in its review of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, The Globe & Mail called Johnston “the Meryl Streep of YA,” with “limitless range.” E. K. Johnston lives in Stratford, Ontario.

  • Publisher : Dutton Books for Young Readers (May 25 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0735231850
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0735231856

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Claire Bennet is a writer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Dalhousie University and is currently completing a Certificate in Publishing through Ryerson University.

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