"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
1. (+) Aria, a protagonist - Aria's character arc over the entire series is probably my favorite element. I started off Under the Never Sky not really liking her but eventually grew to like her as she adapted to her circumstances. And now, in Into the Still Blue, she's become my favorite character. She's fierce and fights for the people she loves and the future she wants. She struggles under the weight of leadership and the unhappy consequence from Through the Ever Night, but with the support of her friends, she pushes past her difficulties to emerge stronger, more assertive, more open-minded, and more capable than before. She's the kind of main character who's not so extremely smart or strategic or x and x that it's hard to believe that she exists; no, she's the opposite. It's easy to relate to her and it's easy to find some bit of yourself in her or to identify with her and how she responds. In some senses, she's like a more active, less recklessly selfless version of Bella Swan - very personable, very ordinary and extraordinary.
2. (+) Perry, a protagonist - Oh, Peregrine. How I'll miss him. We're exposed to more of his past as certain events (from previous novels and in this novel) bring them to light and add extra shades to his character. He also gets his own arc as he learns to cope with what happened in Through the Ever Night to both his relationship with Aria and Roar, and with the pressures of leadership in a dying world. TtEN laid out the necessity for a plan besides the temporary he concocted, and he follows through with that challenge in this book and more. His friendship with Cinder is as adorable as before, his relationship with Aria as supportive despite the difficulties with Roar, and Perry... I wish there were more romantic interests / main characters like him.
3. (+) World-building - This book does what Mockingjay did: introduces us to another setting, one that we've been imagining for ourselves over the past two books... and familiarizes us with details in the settings of the first books. You get a bit of the cave life, life outside the Dome but inside hovers, life at the Still Blue. You get an explanation for the Aether and some back story on the Unity Wars and the Still Blue. It's a good mix of explanation/back story and smaller, more local details about the settings. (Plus this series was always more about the characters, I think, than the world). I commend Rossi for rounding out the world that she'd established in the previous two novels.
4. (+) Side Characters - The side cast helps make this series stand out from the rest in young adult. It's rare to find an author who will pay attention to the side characters and give them their own character arcs without sacrificing other plot/character/mood/etc. details. The most famous example has to do with Neville from Harry Potter, and I am reminded of that here - Rossi does a great job of giving her side cast character arcs equally in line with the plot. Roar's arc works well with Perry's as they cope with what happened. Brooke, Soren, Cinder, the Six, Hess -- especially Cinder and Soren -- they too get their time in the spotlight. There are some characters who I didn't remember, but Rossi takes the time to shade their personalities as well. Even the dynamic between the villains gets some development, though Sable, to me, still felt foreign (which worked for the story at any rate).
5. (+) The Romance - Ah, the romance. This review is all about me saying what I appreciate in this series, and I definitely appreciate the dynamic Rossi has created between Aria and Perry. For one, though both characters are slightly insecure and jealous at times, it doesn't push them away from each other; instead they're confident in the other person, and that makes all the difference, makes their relationship that much smoother and more enjoyable to read. The trials they face also feel organic since they arise as a result from actions they took in the previous novels - nothing is contrived to push them apart. This is a beautiful romance with both characters supporting the other, and I would be glad to read more like it in YA.
6. (+) The Plot - Rossi takes quite a few risks and kills off some characters without pause. As the summary implies, this is a dying world... and she amps up the stakes to match that fact. What I particularly liked about the plot was that I knew where the story was going to go but that Rossi's way of getting there would surprise me. By the end of a series, it's more about building the anticipation and following through with the various arcs that have been outlined. Rossi's good at that, at adding in unexpected details and inserting sly plot twists. Another thing I appreciated was that Rossi respects you as a reader. She laid out the foreshadowing and quickly got to some reveals rather than drawing them out.
7. (--) Anticlimactic - The book was anticlimactic in two parts: the ending and the actual Still Blue crossing. The book builds and builds to both of these major plot events, which in turn don't seem to take that many pages or maybe just didn't have as guttural of an impact as I had expected. Is that a bad thing? Not really. The ending bothered me more than the crossing because it seemed rushed and slightly unrealistic, but in all truthfulness by that point I no longer cared because the entire story was beautiful and satisfying. (For more discussion of this element, see this thread.)
8. (+) Writing - The thing I like most about Veronica Rossi's writing is that it's got a good balance of everything. She's good at building tension -- she uses a lot of questions and quick sentences for that effect but still uses enough narrative for Aria and Perry to have more unique perspectives, also different from one another. There are just enough sensory details to let you visualize the world she's created too.
9. (+) Pacing - My judgement of the pacing is probably skewed since I didn't reread TtEN and felt like everything was new... but at any rate, it seemed like there was always something happening or something about to happen that kept me hooked with the characters and advancing plot.
10. (+/-) The Cover - I don't really like the US covers for this series, but I do like the consistency, the colors, the title font, and how they've emphasized whose character arcs get the most attention in each book.
Into the Still Blue is both satisfying and enjoyable for Rossi fans. If you like genre benders within YA that develop characters and romance without expense to the main plot, try out the Under the Never Sky trilogy. Highly recommended. (In some ways this series reminds me of the Legend trilogy; both are executed well in their own right, and both make my recommendation lists for hesitant and avid YA readers alike. Though I haven't gotten the *feels* that others have from this series, I would still recommend it.)
(Side note: I did not reread the sequel before reading this. I was somewhat confused for the first 20%, since I could not remember what exactly had happened, but then I got hooked and absorbed in the story. If you need everything to be clear from the start, you might want to do a cursory skim of the last fourth in Through the Ever Night... OR look through these summaries from the wonderful Recaptains blog.)
[4.5 stars] Lauren at Love Is Not a Triangle - "Into the Still Blue, goes out on a quiet note, and though selfishly I wanted more and more, I closed this book with a satisfied smile."
[4 stars] Sam at Realm of Fiction - "A completely satisfying conclusion."
[DNF/2 stars] Emily May at The Book Geek: "...after trying at least ten times to read this book, I've had to put it aside indefinitely. I was finding it so dull that I started skim-reading."