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Aetherbound  By  cover art

Aetherbound

By: E. K. Johnston
Narrated by: Ashley Eckstein
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Publisher's Summary

A thought-provoking new YA space adventure from the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston's latest is a story of survival and self-determination. 

Pendt Harland's family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right, she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

©2021 E. K. Johnston (P)2021 Listening Library

Critic Reviews

A Kirkus Best Book of 2021

A Tor.com Best Book of 2021

"A close-knit, endlessly cathartic gem." (Kirkus, starred review)

"Aetherbound had me by the heart in just a few chapters...[a] book for anyone who’s ever underestimated themself, and who had to find their people to figure out their power." (Tor.com)

"Brimming with heart, this book is the tale of young people searching for a better, kidner way." (San Diego Union Tribune)  

What listeners say about Aetherbound

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good fun read – Johnston is great!!

This is the story of Pendt Harland, and it is a rather interesting read. It is broken down into multiple sections, starting with her life at 5yrs old, then a bit later, and then the second part of the story is around when she is 17-18yrs old.
Before I go too far with this review, I would like to touch on the subject of the content warning. Whilst this seems to have struck up a fair bit of controversy with some reviews, there is a very clear warning at the start of the book about a scene of medical violence, and about calorie counting.
As someone who has a child with an eating disorder, I thought the warning re calorie counting was clear enough – and represented what was in the book – there is a lot of discussion about food and calories, and I will cover why shortly.
As for the medical violence, without going into anything graphic, or giving things away, I personally did not think it was overly intense, or graphic, and I have worked with DV and Child Abuse as a Police officer for several years. Again, I felt the warning was more than satisfactory.
This is a Science Fiction novel after all, some level of violence is expected in such books, and if you are going to criticise the Author for having violence in their book, you could open a whole can of worms as nearly every Sci-Fi book has some form of violence in it, (geez, nearly all books do in some form these days!!), so it is unreasonable to single out one Author.
But enough of that – it’s enough to say, there is a bit of violence, be warned, and I have to be honest, if you do have an eating disorder, anything to do with calorie counting, or image issues relating to food, then this may not be the book for you.
The story starts with a young Pendt Harland, and we learn that she lives aboard a long haul star freighter, one that travels a specific route between a group of mining colonies, sharing resources, as well as dropping off people looking for work, and picking up unprocessed ore to deliver to space stations, where they pick up supplies and drop off the ore, as well as pick up people looking for work to drop off at the mining stations. The Harland ship is a slower ship, taking a long time to complete the route, but it is a larger ship, able to take a lot of cargo, both ore and people, making it worthwhile, as the newer faster ships just can’t carry anywhere near what the Harland can.
In this ‘Universe’ there is a thing called ‘Aether’, and people who can manipulate it. Different people can do different things with it. Some can use it to see how to travel amongst the stars. Some can use it to open gateways using mechanisms, and at the other end, great ‘nets’ to catch the ships, so that starships can be flung through space and caught at the other end.
There is a very detailed story about how this has all come about, but basically, it works out that young Pendt is useless on the ship, worth nothing to the crew, as she has no abilities that can help the crew. As a woman, she does have one use when she turns 18, she can be sold as a womb, so that she can breed a baby for someone, and make money for the ship.
And this is Pendt’s story – we see the terrible life she has aboard the ship, eking out an existence, in which literally every gram of food is counted, and if anything is wasted, she is punished. To the point Pendt is grossly malnourished as they feed her just enough so she can do her chores and not die, and nothing more.
Knowing the fate that is about to befall her, just before her 18th birthday, Pendt runs away, jumping ship at a space station. Unbeknownst to her, she has jumped off at a station run by twin boys, the Brannick Twins, who are in a bit of a situation themselves.
And this is where the 2nd part of the story comes in.
I won’t go into this as I don’t want to give anything away.
The character work by Johnston is outstanding, Pendt’s character is beautifully described, in great detail, as we learn of her life aboard first the starship and later the space station. You get caught up in her life and are fascinated by this young girls tale as she lives this life in which she is shunned and almost hated by a group that is meant to be her family, but because she doesn’t have any ‘Aether’ abilities that are useful to them, she is worthless, so they see her as a waste of good oxygen. They only keep her around so that they can sell her at 18 – she is a slave with a price on her head.
As she comes to realise this, and works out she has to run, the story really becomes intriguing, and from there, the pace picks up as she moves onto the station.
I won’t cover any other characters, simply as I don’t want to give anything away, but the other character work is exceptionally well done, Johnston continues to create powerful, and gritty Sci-fi as she has done for some time now.
The world building was really fascinating, although at times, it was a little out of place. It was in these blocks in between chapters, and at times, I was left wondering how it related to the main story. Having said that, each of the sections was really interesting, and I loved it, and I hope it has greater meaning to the overall series. As for the book, you really felt like you knew the Harland before Pendt left it, and Pendt’s exploration and discoveries of the station made it so you really understood the world she was part of there to. Overall, the world building was very detailed, bringing the story to life nicely.
This is a really beautiful story, one that is well worth the read (well to be honest, I would suggest the listen – Ashley Eckstein’s Narration is just beyond exceptional, and adds so much to the story, it can’t be missed!!). It is a really fun adventure of a young girl, growing up in pretty horrific circumstances, but finding two wonderful brothers, and starting a new adventure. But before that can happen, certain things have to take place – it makes for a great read, hope there is a sequel!!
Ashley Eckstein has the voice of an Angel, and is just so beautiful to listen to, I could listen to her tell any story for hours.
She just has such a wonderful Narrating voice, it Is so nice to listen to, so easy to listen to, and she has the best laugh.
On a serious note Ashley Eckstein has a very clear and concise voice, so that she is easy to understand, and she does very nice voices, both male and female, again, very easy to understand and distinguish.
She tells a wonderful story, easily conveying the emotional state of her characters, so that you can really understand how they feel.
Ashley Eckstein is a wonderful Narrator, and she has such a beautiful voice, she is one of those that I would buy her books just based on the fact she is Narrating, as she is so good, and her voice is so lovely to listen to. A must listen, especially with Ashley Narrating!!

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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A Lot of Wasted Potential

I'm a big fan of E.K. Johnston and was very excited for this book. It starts out strong and just as it's gaining momentum it comes to a stand still. I felt like the whole middle of the book was just a big stall until something finally happens in the last few pages. Unfortunately this novel was highly predictable and left little to the imagination. There was so much wasted potential here. I really struggled through this one. This was not E.K. at her best. Hoping a sequel will bring more home. Ashley Eckstein's performance was wonderful as always.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Enjoyable Story, Takes off in Second Half

I'll do my best to be descriptive and not give any spoilers!

I'm not going to lie, the first 1/3 of the book wasn't holding my interest. There was a lot of factual world building that was a lot to take in, and there wasn't much indication of where the story was going - I love world building, but character development is my real jam, so world building sans character development is difficult for me. Once the main character Pent meets the other main characters, though, the story started to gain my interest and I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the book. I'd be interested in reading a follow up story about the characters!

There is a warning at the beginning of the audio book, but if mention of intense calorie counting is triggering, you should definitely steer clear. The mentions aren't super detailed or for weight loss purposes, just mentioned frequently in the first 1/3 of the book as it's required for the lengthy voyages the ship takes and doling out the available nutrition is part of Pent's job. It is mentioned during the rest of the book, but a lot more rarely and even more vaguely than before.

I thought the way the story resolved was interesting and a bit unique, I was pleased!

I really liked the combination of ether and science fiction, the world is an interesting one for sure!

The writing is very straightforward so I think the audience could be as young as 12, but there are some more adult concepts - pregnancy and choosing what children are worth while for the ship, and a lot of emotional abuse by Pent's family, so it depends on the young adult whether it is an appropriate read. (I should mention that I'm an adult in my 30's.)

As for the audiobook reader Ashley Eckstein, I'm a huge fan, so I'm probably pretty biased, but I loved her reading the story. She has a fairly young voice, but it fits the characters so well.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • AB
  • 10-13-21

I- I wanted to like it? I did. Mostly.

I love the author, I adore the narrator, so I kinda just bought it blind lol. I had also heard amazing things about it on twitter and it seemed interesting. The book starts really really slow with a world building prologue, and then is split into 3 parts.

Part 1, the first 1/3rd of it, is absolutely fantastic. Building a word one intriguing bit of info at a time, figuring things out *just* (or sometimes well) before the character does and sharing in the horror of this weird world the author has dropped us and her into. Wondering how it'll work out, what will happen when the Long Awaited Day arrives.

And then part 2 starts and everything kinda just? works out? perfectly. for the rest of the book.

At first I was happy! The stakes in part 1 had set me up to expect a LOT of conflict and issues in part 2, and I was pleasantly surprised and happy for the character that everything was, for once, going well for her.

But then it just kinda, always went well? The stakes that had been so high before just disappeared with some bread and oil and charming boys lmao. To the point that by the time there *was* some conflict in part 3, I just was listening to it to finish it. I didn't care lmao. I still wanted them to have their happy endings, but the story had well and truly lost me.

That being said, the narration was FANTASTIC, the added bit of audio editing was a nice addition, and the world building, tho a bit clunky at times, was REALLY intriguing.

And the story, to be fair, probably would have appealed to me a lot more if I was the target audience. I am 28 now, and heckin love YA fiction (let's be honest, it's a genre all on its own that there isn't really an Adult version of, sadly) but I *am* a 28 year old woman and that will color my reception of, well, everything I consume lol.

So, 10/10 for narration and sound editing, 6/10 for story, a solid 8/10 for world building (more books set in this world would be fantastic, not gonna lie). But take my review with a grain of salt (/pinch of sugar? how does that saying go??). I don't regret buying it at all, my sister IS the target audience and she will likely adore it.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Good story…..

Although Star Wars wasn’t mentioned much at all during the telling, this piece eventually became a good story……..

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A well thought out and gripping space opera.

I loved this story, the characters, and the world it built. There is build up at the start of each part to know what you need to so the world make sense. Nothing is overexplained and treats the audience like they can understand the premise.

I cannot recommend this book enough for those looking for Science Fiction with an interesting and occasional darker edge.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Good short story

I usually listen to Star Wars storiesSo this was suggested because of Ahsoka. it took a bit to get off the ground but it picked up and carried a good story through the end. It'll need a sequel. or two. I could picture it becoming a movie.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I wish there was more.

Interesting premise, thought provoking, and tackles sensitive issues with the forwardness of a battle axe but the grace of a scalpel. The trigger warning at the start is warranted, though, even with the aforementioned grace with which those issues were addressed. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone with certain *cough* controlling *cough* political views on people's bodies, as this is a story about the liberation of bodily autonomy.

I wouldn't quite define it as SciFi, since I prefer to think of similar titles as space fantasy (think starwars) due to the existence of a magical system that doesn't necessarily hinge on an advancement in technology. That said, the technology in the universe is certainly more advanced than ours and the author entwines both to weave an intricate and fascinating backdrop for the story to take place in. Specifically I appreciated the unusual political circumstances that were enabled by the setting.

The protagonists were, perhaps, the most vibrant aspect of the storytelling. I quickly found myself very invested in their character arcs and struggles, beyond simply liking them. The story really shone in the small moments of celebrating simple agency and autonomy, brilliantly using the magical system to create a philosophical circumstance to explore the self-determination so central to the plot.

All in all, I think it was refreshing and tasteful. I've already seen a few reviews by people who get mad over certain issues that they insist are political and "irrelevant to the plot", but those sorts tend to get offended by anything that doesn't exclusively represent them and their politics; their reviews don't carry significant weight for this reason, by my estimation. My only real criticism is that it was too short and I was left wanting more.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A short and interesting read with a different take

A failed invasion has left a network of connected space stations and a strange way of living, navigating between them. In a ship, where every resource counts, your meals will be even more subject to scrutiny... and it's worse if you expend your calories performing magic that has no purpose for the community. In this context, a girl will escape and find a new life among two people that will complement her and show her all that she was missing, where the partnership will bear all kinds of fruits.

Tragedy, as usual, will strike, and the girl's family will do all in its power to recover her...

A fantastic reading by Ashley Eckstein!

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

mixed feelings

My thoughts are all over the place with this book. But Eckstein was outstanding as always