The story takes place sometime in Earth's distant future, where the world has become largely uninhabitable due to a mysterious substance called Aether, which creates storms that wreak havoc on the land. Humanity has been divided into Dwellers, who live in virtual reality pods, safe from the hazardous Aether, and Outsiders, who live in primitive tribes, fighting for survival. The story follows Aria, an exiled Dweller, and Perry, an exiled Outsider, as they fight to survive in the wild while searching for their lost family members.
The weakest aspect of the story was the characters. They were mostly bland, flat, and unmemorable. Roar was the only character I liked and he wasn't featured enough to make the story enjoyable. Liv had potential but she didn't make any appearances at all. Aria lacked a personality, or any sort of depth. She didn't really have any flaws or standout characteristics, and her naiveté about the outside world seemed unrealistic considering her vast knowledge and her experiences in virtual reality. Perry was also a lackluster character, although he bothered me less than Aria. I failed to connect with either of them.
Because I didn't care about the characters, I also couldn't get on board with the love story. I didn't find Perry at all attractive, and I couldn't understand his interest in Aria. To make things worse, the author muddles their relationship by adding in the idea of rendering, taking away any free will the characters had. It seemed like a cheap ploy to speed up the relationship between Aria and Perry which already had ample time to develop.
The world building, while original, left a lot to be desired. By the end of the novel there were too many unanswered questions. The Aether is never properly explained, which was problematic given how prominently it was featured. Also, I didn't get a clear picture of how much time had past since our present time. All of the evolutionary changes and the technological advances would have required centuries, if not millennia to develop, yet the only history mentioned comes from our present time and before.
It also struck me as unbelievable that humans could have evolved to smell feelings or hear thoughts based on our current understanding of the brain. Although I could buy that humans had evolved to read minds or sense feelings, I couldn't buy that these abilities evolved as an extension of our five basic senses without some sort of explanation. Thoughts don't make sound and feelings, which are a combination of thoughts and physiological changes, don't give off an odor.
There were quite a few other scientific impossibilities and inaccuracies in this story. For example, the wolves in one scene have blue eyes even though adult wolves never have blue eyes. This sort of inaccuracy in a novel, especially in science fiction, needs to be explained or serve some purpose, which in this case it did not. If no explanation is given, I'm going to assume it was an error on the author's part and think less of the book.
Also, menstrual blood does not smell like violets, nor does a person's body odor.
Lastly, the pacing of the first half was slow, and the ending was very abrupt. Instead of coming to a natural conclusion, the book ends in the middle of the story with two new characters being introduced in the second to last chapter.
Overall, I was not impressed, however, many of my friends were as evidenced by the overwhelming number of four and five star ratings. This book just missed the mark with me.