Here’s a treat for you: after finishing Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars, I wrote an excited review about how much I loved it. Apparently I was so thrilled that I saved this review into some dark corner of the abyss, never to be located again. So here we are, several weeks later, where I face the task of conveying just how much I enjoyed These Broken Stars despite the inevitable loss of immediate post-book enthusiasm. Wish me luck!
First things first: the fantastic thing about These Broken Stars is that it is so wonderfully different than anything I have read in recent memory. The story focuses on Lilac, the wealthy high-society daughter of one of the richest men in the galaxy, and Tarver, a soldier from much more humble roots. The two meet when Tarver is being paraded around the “upper class” decks of the Icarus (a giant, luxurious spaceship), for his military triumphs. They get to know each other much better, however, when the Icarus comes tumbling out of the sky and leaves Lilac and Tarver alone together on a mysterious abandoned planet.
What follows is a story of survival, romance and paranormalish mystery, all wrapped up in a science fiction bow. It’s kind of a bizarre mishmash of genres, and yet it works fantastically because the authors put so much care and focus into each facet of the story. Tarver and Lilac are both fascinating characters, and through the distinct back-and-forth narration between them, I felt incredibly invested in each character’s individual growth, as well as their complex relationship as they learned to work together to survive. No insta-love here; instead readers are treated to a believable relationship trajectory for two characters with incredibly different pasts.
To avoid convoluted plot, the story progression has a pretty clear split between the section where Tarver and Lilac learn how to stay alive on the foreign planet and the section where they address the mysterious state of the terraformed, but abandoned, planet. I will admit that I was a bit confounded by the mystery aspect of the story. I was willing to go along with it, but ultimately it was a little too abstract for my taste. Fortunately the plot moves quickly and the writing flows so well I didn’t really mind detouring through a plot thread that wasn’t entirely to my taste. By the time it came up, I was so desperate to find out what would happen to these characters that I was more than willing to make some concessions along the way.
Beyond being a unique story featuring well-developed characters, These Broken Stars also benefits from being a major page-turner. There’s almost always some sort of suspense or peril plaguing the main characters, but even when there’s not – even in the quiet, more mundane moments – I was completely riveted. It had been a long time since I read a book that I so looked forward to picking up any chance I got, so it was really fun and refreshing to get that from These Broken Stars.
Another thing I love about this book is that I have more to look forward to. While These Broken Stars is technically the first book in the Starbound series, it’s not a traditional series. Rather than following the story of Lilac and Tarver through two more books, the next novels in the series will focus on different characters with different stories, but within the same (wonderfully built) world of These Broken Stars. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have similarly fantastic books to look forward to without the anxiety of wondering if the authors will be able to maintain a high level of storytelling throughout three books with only one storyline to work with.
I think it’s difficult sometimes for authors to bridge the gap between science fiction and accessibility to mainstream readers. Sci-fi tends to be more of a niche genre than something a casual reader (or someone more comfortable in the realm of contemporary fiction) is comfortable picking up, and These Broken Stars demolishes that obstacle. It takes science fiction elements and does them justice with detailed, logical world-building, but it remains a character-focused story, helping tentative readers find a thread they can grab on to even if they’re initially out of their element. These Broken Stars really has broad appeal, and I would encourage readers who enjoy any genre of YA to give this unique story (and subsequent series) a chance. I think most will be pleasantly surprised.