Shades of Earth is the final installment in the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis and it is definitely my favourite. All the pieces of the story come together and it felt much faster paced than Across the Universe and A Million Suns (not that I didn't enjoy them too). I think part of it is because they have finally left the claustrophobic Godspeed behind (though there were times I missed the ship).
At the end of A Million Suns, Amy and Elder were preparing to launch the shuttle that was going to take them to their new home Centauri-Earth. The beginning of Shades of Earth picks up right where the last one left off. Not all of the ship's inhabitants decided to leave with them after the rebellion that took place in A Million Suns, but enough of the ship-borns were willing to take the next step of the journey and there are the 'frozens' as well - including Amy's parents - who Amy quickly unfreezes when they reach the planet's surface.
However, upon reaching the planet Amy and Elder soon discover that Orion's warnings about the planet's lifeforms are accurate - there are 'monsters' - giant pterodactyl-like birds that waste no time in attacking and killing some of the new arrivals. Not only that but the flora itself is deadly and there are also other mysterious aliens that seem hell-bent on destroying them. They also have to contend with the newly-awakened military presence (of which Amy's father is the new de-facto leader given that Orion took out the most senior officers in Across the Universe). There are secrets that the military are hiding from everyone and things are definitely not as they seem. It is up to Amy and Elder to uncover these secrets that threaten all their lives (with a little help from Orion and his cryptic 'clues'). What deadly secrets is Centauri-Earth hiding, why was the first Elder so determined to keep them on the ship and just who are the real enemies?
This was a truly fantastic book. I enjoyed the first two books in the series but sometimes the plot moved a little too slowly and ponderously for me. I also felt the characters were lacking depth, or at least their motivations were hard for me to understand because I never felt I really knew enough about them as characters (except for Harley who I still really miss). I am pleased to say that this isn't a problem in Shades of Earth. The characters, mainly Amy and Elder but also the side characters as well, felt more nuanced and layered. I still find Amy a little bit annoying but I understand her better now so it was easier to accept that facet of her personality. Elder has really grown on me. He irritated me a lot in the previous books but I really like how Beth Revis has developed his character in this and although there were few moments where the old Elder popped up, I still very much enjoyed the new, more responsible side of him. Amy and Elder's relationship also develops further and their bond feels more believable than it did in the previous books.
Overall Shades of Earth was a blinding end to the series. I was riveted from the beginning to the end. There were twists and turns that took me by complete surprise and I liked the final resolution of the conflict ****spoiler begins****I even like the cheesiness of Elder's survival at the very end after he seemingly gives his life to save Amy and his people****spoiler ends****. Some familiar faces also made an unexpected appearance in this book ****spoiler begins****I was pleasantly surprised to see Bartie and Doc again when Elder finds his way back up to the ship to save the left-behind shipmates (after Godspeed's engine failure leads to the ship start degrading at an accelerated rate - there only chance for survival is to join the rest of the crew on Centauri-Earth). I do wish Orion wasn't killed off so quickly though as he was a character I wanted to know more about****spoiler ends****. I also like the fact that Beth Revis wasn't afraid to kill characters off and she did so in a way that served the plot and heightened the tension. All the plot threads came together nicely in this and I was floored when each secret was revealed. I am a huge science fiction fan (especially of anything set in a spaceship or an unexplored world - I have Star Trek to thank for that!) and dystopian stories have always fascinated me so I was always going to love a series that combines these two elements. Shades of Earth is the book where it all comes together for me and the climax has definitely been worth waiting for.