Review of Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard
By Tim Chamberlain
A veteran novelist and a first-timer come together to create Conquest, a masterful young adult science fiction tale that may just end up being the next big thing.
John Connolly, perhaps best known for his Charlie Parker mystery series, has teamed up with newcomer Jennifer Ridyard to create a YA novel that feels more grown-up than many of its peers. Filled with danger, ethical issues and political intrigue, this is the type of challenging YA novel that should appeal to adults as much as to kids.
The novel is set in a near-future where aliens, the Illyri, have come to Earth as (mostly) benevolent conquerors, but conquerors nonetheless. They have helped us in many ways: clean energy, advanced medical techniques, and better technology all around. However, the Illyri make clear that they are in charge now, sometimes brutally, and this unsurprisingly rubs a lot of humans the wrong way, thus clearing the way for an active human resistance movement.
Humans are the most advanced species the Illyri have attempted to subdue, and this causes the aliens a lot of difficulty. Not only do the humans have a strengthening movement, but many Illyri are having ethical issues with trying to defeat a race that is so similar to themselves. The parallels to American incursions into places like Iraq and Afghanistan are obvious (the Troubles of Northern Ireland are another reference point), and it is refreshing to see such serious and thought-provoking issues in a YA novel, handled so well.
Much of the story follows either Syl, a 16-year-old Illyri, or Paul, a 17-year-old Scot who is part of the resistance. Their interactions serve as a sort of small-scale model of the interactions between the Illyri and the humans as a whole. If the focus had only stayed with these two, Conquest likely would have been nothing special. However, Connolly and Ridyard populate this universe with a fascinating cast of characters, characters that you grow to love or hate over the course of the novel. Their dedication to character development makes Conquest stand out amongst their lesser YA peers.
Conquest is to be the first novel in a series, and it does a good job of setting up both the basic universe of the series and how high the stakes are for everyone involved. Unlike something like the Harry Potter series, there is no slow build up to a deadly climax–things get deadly right away, and the gritty, densely-plotted story sets itself up well for the next installment. Here’s hoping that the powers-that-be have good enough taste to make Conquest the next YA worldwide hit.