Marcus is fourteen and lives in Heliopolis. His father is the king which naturally means that Marcus is heir to the throne. His life is rather a lonely one. His father is away a lot and the two people he's closest to are Asperia, his tutor, and Titus, head of the army, who is training Marcus in everything to do with combat.
The city of Heliopolis is one of a number of citadel city states that exist above the clouds. The cities look out on a sea of cloud that is so dense that no one knows what lies beneath it. Those who have tried to find out have never returned.
The king's return from a state visit is long overdue. Eventually a messenger arrives to say that his ship was destroyed and plummeted into the clouds. It is not known how this happened. Two ships are sent to investigate with Marcus and Titus aboard one of them. There's not much hope but perhaps someone can be lowered down far enough to spot wreckage. Various ropes and pulleys are assembled but Titus, oddly, leaves Marcus's ship for their companion ship. The cage is lowered when suddenly the other ship opens fire and a battle ensues. The ship Marcus is on is damaged badly enough that it plummets from the skies, through the cloud layer, and into the sea below.
Just a few of the crew, including Marcus, survive and are washed ashore onto an alien landscape. Marcus is devastated at the betrayal of his close friend, Titus, and also still grieving for the loss of his father. As heir to the throne the survivors are wary of Marcus, unsure how they'll survive themselves let alone keep a prince alive. Marcus has a lot to prove. He must try to blend in with the crew, be as useful as possible, but most of all they must explore this place they've come to... and find a way to get home and reclaim Heliopolis.
Quite a little gem this one. I was most taken by the world building, fascinated by the idea of these cities above the clouds, interacting, warring, the heirarchy that exists etc. The mystery element - that they have no idea how they got there, why the cities were built *or* what lies beneath the clouds, is extremely intriguing. I personally love the mix of science fiction and mystery and it's well done here. Possibly I would have liked more about the other cities and the technology, as it appears they were all different. I can see that if this had been an adult science fiction book a wonderfully complicated and long series might have ensued that was imaginative and challenging. I think I might have liked that but as a YA book it works well and is not a problem.
Characterisation in the book is fine... but not brilliant by any means. You don't get a huge sense of who these people are and what makes them tick. Some male authors don't seem to go in for making their main characters well rounded people: the mix of good and bad that we all are is often not well represented. And other characters that I can't go into for fear of spoilers are a little cliched in my opinion: too black and white. I'm not sure if authors are told to write this way for children or what, but it does seem a shame not to write people as they really are.
All that said, I still enjoyed this book very much. It's very imaginative and the final chapters, which obviously I can't describe, had me on the edge of my seat they were so full of suspense and excitment. This is a two book series so there is a sequel - Cloud World at War. Annoyingly, Devon libraries doesn't have a copy anywhere in the county. Did I enjoy this book enough to buy the sequel? Yes, I think I probably did... although I might try putting in a request to my library to actually get book 2 first.