3 out of 5 StarsAerin Renning is a fugitive. Hiding in the most elite academy in the universe, Academy 7, she becomes entangled with Dane, the son of the premier general of The Alliance. They clash at first, but when they are forced together, friendship blossoms…and a relationship that has far greater implications than the two will ever know.Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? However, the biggest failing of Academy 7 is that it doesn’t live up to many of the promises it makes. Interesting topics such as power, imperialism, politics, and slavery are brushed off, unresolved, or solved in very simplistic ways. This is one YA book that I wish would have been a trilogy or a quadrilogy.However, the strength of this story lies in the relationship between Aerin and Dane. While they are fascinating (if uneven) characters, the slow development from rivals to friends to romantic partners is wonderful to read, especially in a literary landscape that is overwhelmed by insta-love. Both, despite their wildly different backgrounds, are outsiders and each has suffered and endured pain in the past. If you want the angst of a love-each-other-so-passionately-but-they-can’t-be-together romance, this isn’t the book for you. If you like reading about the slow build of a relationship over time, you will enjoy this. Aerin is a strong and different character. She reminds me a bit of Katniss, in her no-nonsense, survivalist mindset. But whereas Katniss is broken over the course of The Hunger Games trilogy, Aerin is already broken. She’s a bit of an enigma throughout the book because her entire backstory isn’t revealed until near the end. This leads to some discrepancies in her characterization (at one point, she’s suffering PTSD from the sound of gun blasts, but later, when another student points a gun at her, she brushes the gun off). Her trauma was used more as a convenient plot device rather than a character experience/trait. But despite that, I enjoyed her character and she felt very real.I loved Dane. At first he appears cocky and arrogant – the stereotypical rebellious younger son, but reveals himself to be incredibly kind and patient with Aerin when he does get to know her and her past. His popularity and place within a prominent family actually alienates him from others. He’s been placed on a pedestal, making him untouchable, but also very lonely. Until he’s forced to spend time with Aerin, who doesn’t understand nor care about his status or family name, is he able to open up about the terrible things that have happened to him and realize he doesn’t have to live his life as a reaction against his father and brother.However, my biggest problems with this book were the simplistic world-building, the homogenous Western based nature of the universe (they still celebrate Christmas!), and my favorite Evil Blonde Cheerleader McSlutface trope. The world of Academy 7 is really big – the story occurs on multiple planets – but nothing is ever really dealt with in-depth. We know there is an alliance of planets called The Alliance and there are planets outside The Alliance’s jurisdiction. There is a Trade Federation that is challenging The Alliance as a power, but…that’s it. Most of the politics are brought up and dropped. The only planets outside the Alliance we get any semblance of an idea of are the planet Aerin was enslaved on and the planet Aerin’s father led a rebellion on. This leads to my main problem with this book – unconscious imperialism disguised as amity. Aerin’s father, a citizen of The Alliance, flew into a planet outside The Alliance’s jurisdiction to incite a rebellion. How is that his business? So an outsider from a richer, more prominent culture, comes in, incites the people to a rebellion, and then imposes his values on the new government? Aerin’s dad needs to read ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ STAT. However, his actions are portrayed as greatly heroic and Aerin is proud of him.There are only two characters of color in the book. A professor at Academy 7 has a Chinese last name, though it’s never outright stated he’s of Chinese-descent and/or multiracial. Of course, he’s a total ball-buster, while the other professors with European last names are portrayed as positive or well-rounded. The only other visible character of color is textbook Evil Blonde Cheerleader McSlutface. Yvonne has it in for Aerin since the beginning for no apparent reason other than she’s an evil bitch and Aerin is the put-upon protagonist. Yvonne throws herself at Dane the first time she meets him and continues to do so throughout the book. She has no other character traits other than evil bitch, and honestly, she serves no purpose in the story other than to drive the original wedge between Dane and Aerin (which Aerin knew she was trouble, so why did Aerin believe her?). It is even more disgusting when every time Yvonne appears, her ‘exotic’ dark skin is mentioned. The word ‘exotic’ is problematic enough, opening a whole other can of worms about ‘otherness’ and ‘fetishizing the other,’ but if also further cements the world of Academy 7 as predominately white. Yvonne is pointless, so why have a bitchy character at all? All the other female students at the academy are bitchy too, making Aerin into an Exceptional Girl and cutting her off from any positive female interactions. The only other positive female characters are Dane and Aerin’s (dead) mothers and the head of Academy 7 – all women over thirty and mostly dead. It’s a disturbing trend.The writing at times could tend toward clunky purple prose and imagery that didn’t really tell the reader anything. The point of imagery is to give readers a clearer idea of what is going on and what a character is seeing or feeling, not confuse us more.Academy 7 gives us a lot of promising threads, but never really follows up on them and is filled with naïve politics and problematic portrayals. The real strength of the book lies within the burgeoning relationship of Aerin and Dane. Both are fascinating individually and in the way the play off of each other. Sadly, however wonderful Aerin and Dane’s bond is, it can’t overcome the lack of depth of the world-building and in the story. I think if the book had focused on them and their life at school instead of diving into the wider world, it would have been more successful. As it is, Academy 7 is a great character and relationship study, but not a very successful sci-fi novel.