Konnor is sixteen and yearns to see the world beyond the walls of vis tower room. But vis parent is sorely disappointed in everything Konnor is. Unlike other folk from Seslin, with their colorings in shades of blue and green, Konnor has fiery red hair and golden skin. Unlike other royals destined to inherit a throne, Konnor is not a strong, natural leader. And perhaps worst of all, vis aura makes it clear that ve only has a fifty-fifty chance of producing the all-important heir. So Konnor is kept locked away, only to see and interact with vis own people once a year during a summer festival. But when ve learns vis parent has arranged a marriage for Konnor, Konnor decides it’s time for drastic action. With the help of a friend, Konnor slips away for adventure and never looks back.
All Dax wants to do is protect vis home of Torria and have a good time while doing so. When vis parent announces that Dax is to marry into the Seslin royal family, Dax is desperate for escape. Ve just never thought that, along the way, ve would find someone with fiery red hair and glowing skin who would capture vis attention like no other. Dax pursues the mysterious traveler, known as Konnor, but when vis usual means of getting what ve wants fails, Dax decides to appeal to Konnor’s thirst for adventure. It doesn’t take long before a genuine connection forms between the two. But things get a little too exciting when royal guards come around for a wayward royal. Soon, disaster strikes that separates Konnor and Dax, and neither one knows if or when they can see their one true love again.
Chasing the Horizon is a young adult, fantasy adventure story that features flying airships, magic stones, and young love. It also tries to focus on a world without gender by using pronouns ve/vim/vis for all characters. For me, it was still a struggle to disengage completely from gender expectations for two reasons. The first is that the names still sounded gendered to me; the second was an editing issue that meant pronoun contractions were consistently written as masculine pronoun followed by the contracted verb (e.g. instead of ve’d or ve’s, it was he’d or he’s).
Pronoun issues aside, I think the story picks up on themes that would be attractive to YA readers. Konnor is literally a prisoner in vis own home, locked up by a parent who cannot see past their own disappointment. Konnor escapes through sheer luck and gets to have the adventure ve so desires. When Konnor meets Dax, Konnor decides to keep vis identity as a member of the Seslin royal family a secret. Ve thinks this lie of omission will prevent vim from getting sucked back into that unwanted commitment. As a result, readers are treated to a version of the classic “mistaken identities” trope. Curiously, there didn’t seem to be much “cringe factor” when Dax realizes the truth and that aspect of the deception wasn’t really a major point of the story. I got the impression that Dax is sort of the opposite of Konnor—Dax has pretty free reign to do as ve pleases, hooks up with many people (though not by “connection,” which is this world’s version of baby-making intimacy), and exhibits dominant and sometimes selfish behavior. So if opposites attract is your thing, you could do worse than Konnor and Dax.
That said, the Konnor/Dax relationship came off as a bit fraught for me. Dax is instantly extremely attracted to Konnor and actually changes vis plans just to literally pursue Konnor. Dax then offers to guide Konnor around the area as a ploy to get closer to Konner. Then, very bluntly, the first time these two are alone, Dax offers Konnor what amounts to date rape drugs. Konnor doesn’t take the drug-laced food, but Dax still presses vis suit—this may be a content or trigger warning scene for people sensitive to attempts at sexual coercion–all masked in depths of Dax’s feelings for, frankly, a complete stranger. Obviously, this builds a certain level of mistrust into Konnor’s mind regarding Dax, even though Konnor observes genuine non-dickishness in Dax as well. There are a few other areas where Dax’s behavior is actually problematic or is perceived that way, which goes towards building tension between the two main characters at least. It’s worth mentioning that both characters happen to possess what is called amouranium stone, or a “lover’s stone.” So this is a very overt way for the characters and the readers to understand that despite how foolishly the characters may act (or be perceived as acting), Dax and Konnor are indeed intended for each other. Ultimately, they fall desperately in love with one another but it was pretty noticeable how unsavory some of Dax’s behavior was, even if it was drive by a love for Konnor.
From a plot perspective, Aislin keeps things moving along. The whole concept revolves around the two MCs going on an adventure, and especially around the idea that Konnor wants to see other lands. There are some great scenes that highlight these other worlds and Konnor’s reaction to them. One of the first ones involves Konnor and Dax visiting temples and, according to legend, they glow. Except when Konnor is there, that legend comes to life and the temples actually start to glow. The worlds themselves seemed to be described well, but when it came to inhabited towns and the people/culture, there was remarkably little exposition. Nevertheless, I think focusing on the characters interacting with the world offered a chance for their relationship to build beyond instinctual desire.
One of the biggest weak points in this story, though, was follow through on some plot devices. For example, I was very curious to learn about Konnor’s travel companion, Timothy. This side character is in the story from almost page one and goes through a rather drastic transformation of character, though I found there to be zero explanation for this transformation on page. Similarly, the reader knows Konnor’s appearance (red hair, golden shimmery skin) is very noteworthy because of its different from almost all other peoples’ appearance (shades of blue, green, beige). Dax also brings up the fact apparent that Konnor’s skin actually glows. These things are never explained, just unsolved mysteries as far as I can tell. Apart from not understanding the import of all these aspects of Konnor as a character, I was disappointed that Konnor’s terrible, abusive parent doesn’t get addressed…like, at all. Not even in the eleventh hour is there any sort of retribution against Konnor’s parent despite an escalation of their abuse of Konnor. I thought it was odd to take such pains to describe how horrible this character is and then leave the situation entirely unresolved.
Overall, I think Chasing the Horizon makes a fair attempt at presenting a genderless society. There is a glossary of terms at the beginning to help readers understand how Aislin eschews gendered terms and some conventions. The main story is an adventure/love story between two star-crossed lovers, but they need a little help figuring out their attraction to one another. There is plenty of mystery to make the characters appealing and several side characters that add drama to the story, but not all of these mysteries are well explained.