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Academy 7 - Anne Osterlund Academy 7 was a step outside of my usual reading tastes, but one I’m glad I took. I am all about expanding my book horizons, these days.The story revolves around two central characters, Aerin Renning and Dane Madousin, who initially manifest with distinct polarity. Aerin is an orphaned fugitive, making a desperate escape from years of slavery on a despotic planet that has cast off technology and progress in favour of cruelty and “culling”. Dane is the son of a decorated military general, a gifted and stubborn young man dogged by family discord and public notoriety. Both become students at the illustrious Academy 7, the educational pride of the Alliance, to discover that their lives are inexplicably linked, and may harbour a secret with universal (tee-hee) ramifications. Before I began reading, I’ll admit that I was expecting heavy science fiction with the kind of world building and technological detail that tends to go flying over my head. I was uncertain whether this would be the type of book I could connect with, or derive enjoyment from reading. Happily, I did both. In Aerin and Dane, Osterlund has created two strong and complex characters, who carry the story admirably. It would have been easy for them to slip into cliché or archetypical territory – the “strong female” and her “cocky male” counterpart. However, the attention to detail and the carefully constructed back stories of both Aerin and Dane render them more nuanced, giving their personalities and actions a believable context. In an early scene where Aerin (formidable in physical combat, reticent in social situations) faces off in a debate with one of her instructors, her intensity of character really shines. As a young woman who has fought for survival, is concealing her true identity, and is driven by strongly entrenched personal principles, she is an interesting and compelling character. Likewise, while Dane initially appears to be self-indulgent and arrogant by means of his position, Osterlund doesn’t play to the stereotype, and gradually deconstructs his facade to reveal a troubled history and complicated situation in life. Despite the differences in their lives, there is a certain affinity between the convictions they hold and the sense of personal alienation that surrounds them. In terms of the relationship between the characters, there is more a hint of romance as opposed to a deluge of it. While the connection Dane and Aerin form is central to the story and takes up a large part of the plot, it is more based around the development of mutual trust and understanding. Academy 7 raises some interesting questions about war, abuse and freedom, the misuse of power and words vs action as a force for change. There are no answers in the text – the issues are put to the reader in a manner mirroring the academy’s debate classes, in that Osterlund poses some thought-provoking points through the set up of her universe and leaves these open to discussion, to be argued by the reader. In this sense, the story had a topical relevance I was not expecting, and I felt it strengthened the story. I did feel the absence of some action during the climax of the novel – much of the intensity is internal and the actual conflict takes place a little “off-page”. It’s not a major complaint, but I suppose I just wanted more of everything, wanted the culmination of the story to be amplified, wanted to be more present in the moment, wanted to see more of the universe. However, the tension is well-done, and the novel sustains a brisk pace, suspenseful and tight as Aerin and Dane come closer and closer to uncovering the truth. The writing is quite descriptive and dense in parts, but I feel that this gives the book a vivid feel that suits the style and genre of the story. It’s an interesting book to visualise, given the scope of the world and the variation in the planets and their social systems. As mentioned previously, I would definitely have liked to see this explored further. (Although granted, there is limited space for that within one book.)Overall, while not wowed, I was entertained by Academy 7. It’s a solid story with interesting characters and a setting that’s both imaginative and familiar. Also, there are lasers :)